The opportunity

For years, antibiotics have been the world’s wonder drugs, saving the limbs and lives of wounded soldiers, helping to reduce U.S. infant mortality rates from 20% to 1% and enabling modern medical practices like surgery and chemotherapy. However, the power of these drugs is flagging because bacteria are becoming resistant to the antibiotics we use to treat them. Widespread antibiotic use in livestock feed is a significant contributor to the problem. The 26.5 million pounds of antibiotics estimated to be used in animal feed in the U.S. is seven times the amount used in human medicine nationwide

Our strategy

In 2003, Environmental Defense Fund and McDonald’s partnered to create a new purchasing policy to curb antibiotic use in poultry production. To create the policy,  we worked with a diverse coalition of organizations that had a considerable stake in the process, including drug manufacturers, academic scientists and members of the medical community.

The partnership was created with the following goals:

  • Retain efficacy of antibiotics for human health
  • Establish guidelines for responsible antibiotics use in animal agriculture


A global purchasing policy for McDonald’s was created that:

  • Eliminated the use of medically important antibiotics as growth promoters in poultry
  • Outlined clear guidelines for the appropriate use of antibiotics
  • Created a purchasing preferences for suppliers who further reduced antibiotics use
  • Created a program for certification of supplier compliance
  • Reduced an estimated 17,900 pounds of antibiotics used annually by McDonald’s suppliers
  • In 2006 McDonald’s top supplier, Tyson Corporate, announced that it had reduced antibiotic use by over 90% and the top four poultry companies in the U.S. all reported eliminating the use of human antibiotics to promote growth in chickens
  • We estimate that a total of 223,600 pounds of antibiotics have been reduced from poultry producers in the US since we completed the McDonald’s partnership