Taco Bell Commits to Cutting Antibiotics from a Quarter of Its Beef Supply

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In 2017, mounting pressure led a number of major brands — from fast food chains like McDonald’s to suppliers like Tyson — to end the use of antibiotics that are considered important for humans in their chicken supplies, a move seen as a significant step towards slowing the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. But the mission continues, and now, the use of these antibiotics in beef has become the next step forward.

This week, Taco Bell has announced a commitment to reduce these antibiotics in its beef supply chain by 25 percent by 2025 in the U.S. and Canada, countries which cover 98 percent of the brand’s global beef according to the company. A six-year timeline to cut a quarter of antibiotics is a bit of a broad, unspecific goal, but the Natural Resources Defense Council — which has helped spur restaurant chains to cut antibiotics in their meat by issuing letter-graded reports — came out in favor of the move despite pointing out this vagueness. “While its commitment leaves significant room for improvement, it’s a move in the right direction and shows the pressure is on for competitors to take action,” said Lena Brook, director of food campaigns at the NRDC.

Explaining the timeline, Taco Bell's Manager of Global Nutrition and Sustainability Missy Schaaphok told CNN Business that working with beef was different than working with chicken — a meat that the chain said it eliminated antibiotics from last year. She said cows live longer and change hands more often, making them harder to track, especially when you take into account that Taco Bell purchases all of its beef from outside suppliers. “Essentially, we're sending a supportive signal to the industry,” Schaaphok was quoted as saying.

Comparatively, last year, McDonald’s promised to reduce its use of antibiotics important to human health across 85 percent of its global supply chain — and yet the chain set no final targets, instead saying that it would hopefully begin setting goals in 2020 and start reporting its progress by 2022.

As for the NRDC, they upped their calls for Wendy’s to make similar commitments. “Fast food chains are seeing the writing on the wall: Customers want better beef,” said Brook. “As one of the nation’s largest beef buyers—we’re calling on Wendy’s to step up next, with comprehensive reductions across all of the company’s beef supplies.”

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