Hamburgers are a favorite food for kids (and mamas, too) and a bag of fast-food burgers is something many parents reach for when the days get busy and cooking dinner isn't in the cards.
But a new report by Consumer Reports suggests that while quick-service restaurants have been doing a pretty good job of getting antibiotics out of chicken dishes, antibiotics are still finding their way into most beef-based burgers kids love so much, and this could make antibiotics less effective when our kids need them.
Giving healthy cattle the same antibiotics that we need to treat illnesses in humans is "a major contributor to antibiotic resistance," Consumer Reports notes. It's totally possible for beef producers to raise beef without antibiotics, but because the antibiotics are used to combat the effects of crowded feedlots and non-grass diets that are pretty standard in the industry, it is a challenge.
Two fast-food burger chains have managed to find producers who are up for that challenge though, and are able to provide the restaurants with antibiotic-free beef.
Where to grab an antibiotic-free burger
Shake Shack and BurgerFi both got Consumer Reports' highest scorecard rating. The chains earned their A ratings because their sourcing policies mean 100% of the beef served in those restaurants is raised without antibiotics.
In a statement to Motherly, Jeffrey Amoscato, Vice President of Supply Chain and Menu Innovation, says Shake Shack has always been committed to making sure the ingredients it sources come from suppliers who don't use antibiotics.
"Our beef, chicken and pork are all 100% all-natural—no added hormones or antibiotics ever, vegetarian fed, humanely raised and source-verified. It's something that's very important to us so we're thrilled to be recognized for our efforts," Amoscato tells Motherly.
It's not easy for chains to find those kinds of suppliers though, BurgerFi CEO Corey Winograd points out in a statement to Motherly. BurgerFi only uses beef with "no steroids, antibiotics, growth hormones, chemicals or additives" and "only about 1% of the beef produced in the United States meets the strict BurgerFi standards of quality."
In terms of scale, BurgerFi is a pretty small player in the quick-service world, with over 100 locations. McDonalds has more than 10 times that many locations in the state of California alone.
The big burger chains scored poorly
With almost 14,000 restaurants sprinkled across America, a significant number of quick-service burgers consumed by American kids come from McDonald's, which received an F rating from Consumer Reports for its use of beef treated with antibiotics.
And McDonalds wasn't alone in this. Most of the big drive-through chains we pass by every day got an F rating. Wendy's stood out for its D- because it has committed to "sourcing a small percentage of beef from producers who minimize (but don't eliminate) the use of medically important antibiotics in their cattle," Consumer Reports notes.
Motherly reached out to McDonald's and Wendy's, as well as Whataburger, A&W, Carl's Jr., Burger King, Five Guys, Jack in the Box and other restaurant chains but has not heard back as of this writing (we will update this story if we do).
Change is needed
Of course, it would be hard for a chain the size of McDonald's to source antibiotic-free beef, but experts suggest that if the big chains tried, consumers would be willing to pay more for those burgers. Plus, if a major player asked suppliers to go antibiotic-free, it would change the industry. It can and should be done, Lena Brook, M.E.S., interim director for food and agriculture at the Natural Resources Defense Council told Consumer Reports.
"The fact is, Shake Shack and BurgerFi have managed to eliminate antibiotic use entirely in the beef they purchase," Brook says. "Imagine the impact if McDonald's were to do the same."
Non-burger fast food
While there was a lot of bad news in the burger category, mamas who need a quick dinner for the family (without antibiotics) don't have to avoid fast food chains altogether if that's what they want to eat.
Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, and Panera Bread all got an A from Consumer Reports. Most of the meat and poultry ingredients at Panera and Chipotle are raised without antibiotics and Chick-fil-A is taking steps to ensure its suppliers do not use antibiotics by the end of 2019.
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