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McDonald's is making a major change to the beef used in most of its burgers

McDonald's will plan to reduce the use of antibiotics in cows for beef and dairy production over the next four years. Copyright Getty Images
Copyright Getty Images
By Erica Chayes Wida with TODAY Food
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But the shift won't happen overnight.


Sometimes it takes one big change to inspire progress — at least that's what McDonald's is counting on.

On Wednesday, the international corporation which is one of the world's largest fast food chains in the world with more than 36,000 stores in 100 countries, announced a newpolicy to phase out the amount of antibiotics administered to its beef supply.

In a chain that offers double-patty Big Macs andplenty of other meaty sandwiches, that's going to affect a lot of meat producers.

McDonald\'s will plan to reduce the use of antibiotics in cows for beef and dairy production over the next four years.
McDonald\'s will plan to reduce the use of antibiotics in cows for beef and dairy production over the next four years.Getty Images

The chain's current policy allows the use of the antibiotics in its meat through injections or feed, which is a common practice among commercial livestock farmers around the world to treat and prevent illnesses among animals in packed living spaces.

In November 2017, however, the World Health Organization (WHO) revised its guidelines on antibiotic usage related to animals being raised for food. The new guidelines recommended "that farmers and the food industry stop using antibiotics routinely to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals" and "aim to help preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics that are important for human medicine by reducing their use in animals."

With the rapid rise of antibiotics used to produce the food many people consume,harmful bacteria that can cause deadly illnesses in humans become resistant to medicine that used to make people feel better. These strands of bacteria are called superbugs.

Dr. Lance B. Price of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center (which was established at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University) applauded McDonald's for heeding the WHO's recommendation, calling antibiotic resistance "one of the greatest threats to mankind today."

McDonald's plans to tackle the shift over the next four years in several phases, the first of which will be to work with beef suppliers to collect data about the use of antibiotics globally. It will partner with suppliers in its top 10 beef sourcing markets (Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Poland, the U.K and the U.S.) to gather enough information by 2020 to set goals on how to cut antibiotic use in each one.

That being said, the beef and dairy cows in its supply chain will likely not be certified as completely antibiotic free or organic.

"Our overall approach to responsible use of antibiotics focuses on refining their selection and administration, reducing their use, and ultimately replacing antibiotics with long-term solutions to prevent diseases and protect animal health and welfare," McDonald's said in a statement. "With this in mind, we remain committed to treating animals when needed."

Beginning in 2022, McDonald's will report the progress it has made.

Recent research has shown fast food is actually getting pricier, in part because of industry changes made for health-driven consumers. But a company spokesperson told TODAY Food that McDonald's does not foresee that the minimization of antibiotics will raise the cost of its meals. She did point out, however, that franchisees set their own prices so there may be some fluctuation among individual restaurants in the coming years.

So don't count on those dollar deals and promos for $1 Big Macs and McChickens disappearing with the antibiotics.

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