McDonald’s says it plans to start using chicken without antibiotics, which are important for human health, and cow’s milk that is not treated with the artificial growth hormone RBST.
The company says chickens will change in the next two years. It says suppliers will still be able to use a type of antibiotic called ionophores that keeps chickens healthy and is not used in humans. Milk will change later this year.
The announcement comes as the fast-food giant struggles to shake up its junk-food image, positioning itself as a healthier alternative in the face of stiff competition from smaller competitors.
Many cattle, pig and poultry producers give antibiotics to their cattle to grow faster and stay healthy. The practice has become a public health problem, with officials saying it could make the germs resistant to drugs so that they are no longer effective in treating a specific illness in humans.
McDonald’s Corporation has long fought against its negative perceptions about food, but the problem has become a major weakness as more and more people think they are made with high quality ingredients towards alternatives. Chipotle and Panera, for example, have already stated that they serve chicken without antibiotics. The “Clean Label” movement has prompted companies across the industry to rethink the quality of their suppliers and the ingredients they use.
After seeing a decline in customer visits to U.S. stores for two years in a row, McDonald’s recently hinted that changes could occur. The franchises were briefed on the chicken and milk changes at a “turnover summit” in Las Vegas on Tuesday night.
Scott Taylor, a McDonald’s franchisee who was at the conference, said the ingredients were “becoming more and more important” to customers. He said the agency was advising that it “needs to be where our consumers want and where we need to be.”
“You’re going to see more things like that in the future,” Taylor said.
In a statement, chicken supplier Tyson Inc. said it was looking forward to working with McDonald’s to meet its new standards. Tyson noted that it has reduced the use of antibiotics on humans by more than 84 percent since 2011.
Due to McDonald’s fight to retain customers, the company has acknowledged many leadership changes, errors, and announced that changes are underway.
The company’s pressure peaked in late January, when the company said CEO Don Thompson would be replaced by its chief brand officer, Steve Easterbrook, who had previously led the European division.
The CEO change officially took effect this week, and Easterbrook was at the franchise summit in Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, McDonald’s is pushing critics back.
Last year, it launched a campaign to invite people to ask open, sometimes uncomfortable questions about its diet, such as whether there are worms in beef (the answer was not). McDonald’s has also brought home the fact that it cracks fresh eggs in stores to make its McMafins in ads and signs.