The Better Beef Wars Continue With Antibiotics
When McDonald’s unveiled fresh beef burgers cooked to order, Wendy’s, known for not using frozen beef, had a lot to say on social media. It was infantile, silly and a lot of fun to watch two massive QSR brands “throw shade,” as the kids say.
Well, it’s time for the next salvo in the better beef wars. Both McDonald’s and Wendy’s announced big changes to supply chains to cut down on the use of antibiotics in beef.
McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD) announced plans to reduce the level of antibiotics over the next few years. Currently the company is measuring antibiotic usage in various global markets including the U.S. Based on what it finds, it will determine “market-specific reduction targets” to reduce antibiotics in those pilot markets. And by 2022 it would begin curbing usage and reporting antibiotic use to the public. The company had made similar plans for its chicken supply chain in the past.
A day after the McDonald's announcement, Wendy’s (NASDAQ: WEN) released details about a partnership with Progressive Beef, a quality management system operated by the Beef Marketing Group that is focused on cattle care, food safety and sustainability. In the announcement, Wendy’s said it would be implemented in 2019 in a “significant part of its beef supply.” And by 2021, the company plans implement the system across at least 50 percent of the supply chain.
The overuse of antibiotics is certainly a serious concern, and it’s something consumers are learning about more and more. The overuse of these key drugs means more drug-resistant viruses, and the World Health Organization calls reducing overuse a national priority. While both McDonald’s and Wendy’s are probably sincere in their messaging, they are likely fed up with brands such as Shake Shack and BurgerFi steering the conversation about antibiotics. Both brands got an A from the National Resource Defense Council in a ranking of burger chains when it came to antibiotic use. Wendy’s got a D- and every other national brand got an F in the report that was release in October.
The report was especially unkind to McDonald’s.
“There’s nothing more American than a hamburger. But for the sake of our health, we need influential restaurants such as McDonald’s to take a bite out of antibiotic overuse in the beef industry,” said Matt Wellington, U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Antibiotics Program Director. “Restaurants need to demand antibiotic restrictions from their beef suppliers. We simply cannot afford to lose life-saving medicines to produce a slightly cheaper burger.”
The report went on to call out the company for “intention without follow-through” as the brand had announced it’s antibiotic work but at the time of the report, hadn’t committed to a timeline.
Whether this will trigger another Twitter flame war remains to be seen. But even without some added drama, it’s a smart move for both companies to take a hard look at the overuse of antibiotics. Watch for other burger players to follow suit.