| LOS ANGELES/CHICAGO, March 12
LOS ANGELES/CHICAGO, March 12 KFC, the world's
largest chain of fried chicken restaurants, may face pressure
from consumer and environmental groups to change how its poultry
are raised after McDonald's Corp said it would switch to
chicken raised without human antibiotics.
McDonald's will phase out chicken raised with antibiotics
that are important to human health over two years to allay
concern that use of the drugs in meat production has exacerbated
the rise of deadly "superbugs" that resist treatment, Reuters
reported last week. Within days, retailer Costco
Wholesale Corp told Reuters it aims to eliminate the
sale of chicken and meat raised with human antibiotics. [ID:
KFC is owned by Louisville, Kentucky-based Yum Brands Inc
, which has no publicly stated policy on antibiotic use
in the production of meat it buys. Chick-fil-A, another chicken
restaurant chain that competes with KFC, says about 20 percent
of the chicken it serves is raised without any antibiotics, and
that its entire supply chain will be converted by 2019.
Both McDonald's and Yum are stepping up efforts to win back
younger and wealthier diners lured away by chains such as such
as Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc and Panera Bread Co
, which boast antibiotic-free meats and other
high-quality ingredients. Yum's KFC restaurants in China two
years ago suffered a massive sales hit following local media
reports that a few poultry farmers supplying KFC fed excessive
levels of antibiotics to their chickens.
"The train has left the station," Bob Goldin, a food
services company consultant at Technomic in Chicago, said of
McDonald's influence on U.S. chicken production standards.
Yum, which also owns the Taco Bell and Pizza Hut chains,
declined to discuss its standards for antibiotic use in meat
"The chicken served in our U.S. restaurants is USDA high
quality, and free of antibiotics," the company said in an
emailed response to Reuters queries.
The antibiotic-free statement refers to a lack of residue in
the meat served at its restaurants and not the practice of
delivering antibiotics to chickens before they are slaughtered,
said Steven Roach, food safety program director at Food Animal
Concerns Trust in Chicago.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has three classifications
for poultry, A, B, and C, and doesn't have a "high quality"
designation for chicken. Poultry rated A is what's typically
found at retail, while poultry rated B or C is usually used in
further-processed products where the meat is cut up, chopped, or
ground, according to a USDA website.
NOT PART OF THE CONVERSATION
McDonald's told Reuters it worked with a wide range of
stakeholders, including environmental group Friends of the
Earth, to develop its U.S. chicken guidelines. Yum and its
brands have ignored requests for information regarding its
antibiotic policy, said Kari Hamerschlag, senior program manager
for Friends of the Earth's food and technology program.
"They have so far not answered any of our emails or phone
calls," said Hamerschlag, who is working with other advocacy
groups to persuade food companies to change their supplier
standards to exclude animals raised with the routine use of
antibiotics. By contrast, McDonald's was "very responsive" to
the groups' requests, she said.
Other groups working with Friends of the Earth to cut
antibiotics from chickens and other meats include the Natural
Resources Defense Council, Consumers Union and the Center for
Food Safety. Friends of the Earth said its interest in
antibiotics has to do with animal agriculture's connection to
the environment and human health.
KFC supplier Tyson Foods Inc did not comment. Other
U.S. chicken producers that have supplied Yum either declined to
comment or could not be reached. It's not known who KFC's
biggest supplier is or how many chickens KFC buys a year.
In 2012, Chinese media reports about excessive antibiotic
use by a few KFC chicken farmers hammered sales there. The
country has more than 4,800 KFC restaurants and accounted for
nearly half of Yum's 2014 operating profit. In response, Yum
dropped some 1,000 small poultry farmers from its supply chain
and launched a public relations campaign to reassure diners
about the quality and safety of its food.
Yum operates separate supply chains in China and United
States. While antibiotics have made for big headlines in China,
the issue also has surfaced at home.
A Reuters investigation last year found that KFC supplier
Koch Foods Inc from November 2011 to July 2014 had given some of
its flocks antibiotics critical to fighting human infections,
even though its website stated otherwise.
The Chicago-based chicken producer changed the language on
its website after questions from Reuters about its use of
virginiamycin, an antibiotic included in a class considered
"highly important" to fighting infections in humans. At the
time, Koch said it has no plans to discontinue the use of
virginiamycin, which it says may be used to prevent a common
intestinal infection in chicken.
Koch did not respond to interview requests for this story.
KFC US said at the time that its "supply partners must
adhere to our strict standards and specifications, which in some
cases are more stringent than the FDA's regulations." It
declined to comment this week.
(Editing by Michele Gershberg and John Pickering)