Fast food giant McDonald's has announced a new policy targeting a clamp-down on antibiotic use in beef over the next four years, through to 2022.

In a statement issued earlier this month, the multinational announced policy to reduce the overall use of antibiotics important to human health, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), which applies across 85% of the company's global beef supply chain.

According to the WHO, antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.

In a phased approach, McDonald's has partnered with supplying beef producers in its top 10 beef-supplying markets - which include Ireland, the UK, France, Germany and Poland -  to measure and understand current usage of antibiotics across a diverse, global supply chain.

By the end of 2020, the data collected will be used to establish reduction targets for medically important antibiotics in these markets.

Then, beginning in 2022, the multinational will report progress against antibiotic reduction targets across all 10 markets.

The new policy has been in development over the past 18 months, following consultation with stakeholders in the sector, including vets, public health leaders and beef producers.

The company claimed that this approach aims for responsible use of antibiotics, refining selection and administration, reducing use of such products and ultimately "replacing antibiotics with long-term solutions to prevent diseases and protect animal health and welfare".

Policy details

The new policy earmarks the macrolide class of antibiotics in particular as being of critical importance to human medicine.

In light of this, the use of macrolide antibiotics may be permitted based upon the advice of a qualified veterinarian and informed by susceptible testing if no other drug is available to treat infected animals.

McDonald’s said it has a preference for raw materials supplied through "progressive farming practices" including, but not limited to: preventive medicine strategies; farm hygiene practices; animal husbandry; and vaccination programmes.

Elements not permitted under the new policy include the use of antibiotics classed as important for human medicine being used for growth promotion in food-producing animals, as well as the routine use of medically important antibiotics for disease prevention.

McDonald's buys 40,000t from 18,000 Bord Bia certified Irish farms around the country. It claims that one in five hamburgers sold in its restaurants across Europe is of Irish origin.

AMR Challenge

In addition, McDonald's also announced its decision to join the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Challenge.

Launched in September 2018, the AMR Challenge is a year-long effort to accelerate the fight against antimicrobial resistance across the globe.