McDonald's Corp <MCD.N> on Wednesday said that it would begin curbing the use of the high value human antibiotics in its global chicken supply in 2018, as the fast-food giant joins a broad effort to battle dangerous superbugs.
McDonald's, in a policy statement, said it is working on antibiotic plans for other meats, dairy cows and laying hens.
McDonald's is requiring suppliers of chicken meat to begin phasing out the use of antibiotics defined by the World Health Organization as "highest priority critically important antimicrobials" (HPCIA) to human medicine.
Public health and consumer groups applauded the move, which is not as strict as the company's policy for the United States, where already for a year suppliers have provided the chain with chickens raised without antibiotics deemed important to human health.
In January 2018, HPCIAs will be gone from McDonald's chickens in Brazil, Canada, Japan, South Korea, the United States and Europe. Only in Europe the company will make an exception for Colistin, a last resort antibiotic.
By the end of 2019, suppliers in Australia and Russia will stop using HPCIAs and European suppliers plan to remove Colistin.
Suppliers in all other markets will comply by January 2027.
"Our goal is to have this policy implemented before this date," McDonald's said in its posted antibiotic policy update.
McDonald's told a group of consumer and environmental organizations on Aug. 17 that 74 percent of its global chicken sales will conform to this policy as of January 2018, Consumers Union, the policy division of Consumer Reports, said in a statement.
Consumers Union also said the company told the group that it hopes to have a timeline soon for reducing medically important antibiotics from its beef supply.
McDonald's declined comment on sales figures and its plans for beef.
More than 70 percent of medically important antibiotics in the United States are sold for livestock use. Scientists have warned routine use of antibiotics to promote growth and prevent illness in healthy farms animals contributes to the rise of dangerous antibiotic-resistant superbug infections, which kill at least 23,000 Americans each year and pose a significant threat to global health.
"If fully implemented, (the plans) could be a total game changer that could transform the marketplace given the company's massive buying power," Jean Halloran, Consumers Union's director of food policy initiatives, said in a statement.
(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Bill Trott)