Photo by:

Recently, Consumers Union released its third annual report on the nation's biggest restaurants' policies regarding antibiotic use. The report, Chain Reaction III: How Top Restaurants Rate on Reducing Use of Antibiotics in Their Meat Supply, ranked 25 restaurant chains in terms of policies on antibiotic use in the production of the meat and poultry they purchase.

Where Does Your Favorite Chain Stand?

The best of the bunch, Chipotle and Panera, both earned A's. These restaurants enforce strict antibiotic-free policies across their meat and poultry supply chains.

Subway, Chick-fil-A, KFC and Taco Bell aren't far behind, each with antibiotic-free policies in the works.

Notably, McDonald's and Wendy's get marks of C+ and C, respectively, placing them ahead of most of the pack (although they are by no means perfect).

Eleven of the 25 restaurants earned an F, having taken "no discernible action to reduce use of antibiotics in their supply chains." These are: Dairy Queen, Sonic, Olive Garden, Applebee's, Domino's Pizza, Chili's, IHOP, Little Caesars, Arby's, Cracker Barrel and Buffalo Wild Wings.

Should You Be Concerned About Antibiotics in Meat?

Antibiotics are drugs given to animals to promote growth as well as keep them healthy while living in unsanitary conditions. By the time you actually consume the meat, the antibiotics are no longer present; however, drug-resistant bacteria can be, and can cause foodborne illnesses. Overusing antibiotics in our food supply has also allowed bacteria to become more resistant to antibiotics used to treat serious illnesses, such as tuberculosis and pneumonia. The Centers for Disease Control actually considers misuse of antibiotics a public health crisis. About 20 percent of resistant infections stem from germs from our food system-either from food or animals.

A lot of progress has been made to limit antibiotic use in animals. The report notes: "For the first time, more than half of the companies surveyed have at least some good policies limiting the antibiotic use."

Most of this progress can be attributed to restaurant policies that eliminate antibiotic use in poultry. Three major U.S. chicken producers, Tyson, Perdue and Pilgrim's Pride, have all recently increased their production of antibiotic-free chickens. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for cows and pigs. "Companies are failing to make similar progress on beef and pork," the report notes. Subway, for instance, sources 100-percent antibiotic-free chicken, and they promise to do the same for beef and pork, although not until 2025. There is far less availability of antibiotic-free beef and pork compared to chicken, according to the report.

What Can I Do?

If you ask for it, they'll supply it. Consumers should speak up and make themselves heard to increase the availability of antibiotic-free meat. Next time you eat out, choose restaurants like Chipotle and Panera that source strictly antibiotic-free meat. Talk to your local restaurants that aren't chains, and ask them if the meat they serve comes from animals that have been treated with antibiotics. When you're at the supermarket purchasing meat to cook at home, check labels to ensure you're buying antibiotic-free. Small actions can be the starting point for big changes.