Hamburger giant McDonald's Corp. has announced a new global policy for its suppliers using antibiotics in food animals.

The new policy prohibits direct suppliers from using growth promoters in food animals after 2004. McDonald's global poultry supply comes from direct-relationship suppliers who control the use of antibiotics in production, and who have facilities specifically dedicated to producing products directly for McDonald's. McDonald's beef and pork suppliers are considered indirect suppliers.

Elanco Animal Health was one of the key stakeholders asked to help develop the policy to advance public health, food safety, animal health and animal welfare.

“We recognize the importance of food companies having policies to assure their customers, the consumer, that antibiotics are used appropriately in food animal production,” states Patrick James, Elanco president. “Elanco's antibiotic knowledge provides scientific and practical insight into the judicious and sustainable use of antibiotics in food animals.”

The Coalition for Animal Health says that, like McDonald's, it is committed to sustainable-use policies governing the use of antibiotics to keep animals healthy, and to science-based regulatory programs.

New Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance will require that all antibiotics undergo a risk assessment to determine the potential for increasing antibiotic resistance.

However, the McDonald's policy asks suppliers not to use products despite approval by FDA.

“We caution about actions not grounded in science,” the coalition states. “Europe, as the result of a non-science-based policy, has removed the use of antibiotics as growth promoters, and as a result, many European countries have documented a dramatic increase in animal disease and the use of antibiotics to treat that disease. As Europe is discovering, non-science-based policies often have unintended consequences.”

McDonald's policy is not based on science, but is a marketing policy, says Paul Sundberg, DVM, assistant vice president, Veterinary Issues, National Pork Board.

That policy undermines government authority and credibility in making approved animal health products available to producers, which “could have long-term effects on the health of the animal and consumer confidence in food safety,” he stresses.