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Most Burger Chains Flunk Antibiotics Scorecard


A new report co-authored by a handful of public interest organizations doles out failing grades to 22 of the 25 largest burger chains in the U.S. because of their continued use of antibiotics in the beef they sell. While there’s no questioning the added expense of going antibiotic free, this kind of negative press does the franchised restaurant industry no favors.

Chain Reaction IV: Burger Edition” is a comprehensive look at how top restaurants have or haven’t reduced antibiotic use in their meat supply chains. According to the results, BurgerFi and Shake Shack are the only two large-scale brands serving beef raised without the routine use of antibiotics. They each earned an “A” on the fourth annual Chain Reaction scorecard that was released by six major consumer and environmental organizations.

If you’re not scared of the global and public health implications of antibiotic-resistant bacteria like I am (thanks NPR), this report is worth your time. A future without functional antibiotics usable in medicine is a scary one. If you’re a decision maker at a franchised restaurant and haven’t begun to move toward an antibiotic-free supply chain, here’s yet another wake-up call that a growing cohort of consumers care about cleaner meats.

“More than 70 percent of the medically important antibiotics sold in the U.S. go to food animals,” the report stated. “Many meat producers routinely give the drugs to animals that are not sick either to promote faster growth or to prevent disease caused by factory farm production practices. Despite the threat posed to public health, the U.S. lacks effective laws and policies to prevent the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture.”

Given the scale and vast quantities of meat used by the fast-food industry, the report singles out the industry’s potential to impact the global supply chain for the better.

According to the study, which surveyed more than 1,000 adult consumers, 59 percent of respondents indicated they’d be more likely to eat at a restaurant that served meat raised without antibiotics, and more than half agreed that restaurants should stop serving meat and poultry raised without antibiotics.

BurgerFi smartly jumped on the report’s unveiling by releasing a statement from CEO Corey Winograd.

“BurgerFi’s brand ethos from the beginning has always been that of being naturally better with authentic ingredients for everyone,” he said. “The company’s mission is to serve the top 1 percent of best-tasting certified, American Black Angus beef from the finest ranches across the country.”

Without getting too tall on my high horse, I am one of these consumers. Now that I’m a little older and it’s become easier to make ends meet, I’ll routinely opt for antibiotic meat whenever given the chance. There’s no escaping that having the luxury of choosing higher quality meats is a privilege not everybody can afford, but that’s why franchised restaurants have the power to move the beef and chicken markets just like when Walmart cracked down on suppliers for using excess packaging.

Chain Reaction said the beef sector accounts for 43 percent of the medically important antibiotics sold to the meat industry—more than any other category. By contrast, 6 percent of medically important antibiotic sales went to the chicken industry.

Aside from Shake Shack and BurgerFi, which both received A grades, Wendy’s was the next-highest in the franchise world with a D-. Everything else included in the survey received a failing grade, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Whataburger, Culver’s, In-N-Out, Smashburger, Freddy’s and A&W, among others.

With declining restaurant foot traffic and image challenges as clean eating continues going mainstream, I sincerely hope the next Chain Reaction includes better marks for the franchise restaurant industry. It’s time for big food brands to step up and do something meaningful for the future health of mankind.

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The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is senior editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at




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