Antibiotics in fast-food pose health risk

By Rebekah Devorak | Opinions Editor

It’s official: Times have changed.

It’s no longer 1955, when moms stayed at home and cooked healthy meals for dinner every night. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 60.2 percent of married-couple families have both parents working for a living.

It seems that everyone is busier than ever these days, and there’s less time to crack open a cookbook. It’s no longer an occasional treat to dine at a restaurant or to drive through the takeout window – it’s just another part of daily life on the move.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that more than 34 percent of children aged 2 to 19 eat fast-food every single day – regardless of race, gender, age and household income. According to the National Institutes of Health, this number is up drastically from just 9 percent in 1995.

No doubt this number is affected by the time crunch that families face today. These fast-food joints, however, aren’t keeping up with the trend and are failing to provide healthy meal choices that adequately substitute meals cooked at home. It’s no longer justifiable to order a double cheeseburger and chocolate milkshake when kids are having takeout daily.

The fast-food industry has been chastised numerous times in the past for health reasons, such as not disclosing nutritional information of menu items. But the latest issue has to do with antibiotics.

A recent study by a number of advocacy groups, including the Friends of the Earth and Center for Food Safety, graded 25 of the most popular fast-food and fast-casual chain restaurants on their ability to consistently provide poultry and meat without added antibiotics.

The restaurants were evaluated on disclosed company policies about the additives. Only five of the companies received a passing grade.

Panera and Chipotle were awarded an “A” by the report, Chick-Fil-A a “B” and McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts a “C.”

The rest, including Subway, Starbucks, Taco Bell and Wendy’s, failed to either divulge information regarding the companies’ antibiotic policies or used meat from farms that raised the animals with antibiotics.

Antibiotics are often used by farmers to keep animals healthy and plump before they are slaughtered. According to a article, this is often because the animals are kept in such close quarters with one another that illness is a dominant problem.

While antibiotics may keep the animals healthy, they can cause the opposite result in humans. Because bacteria has the ability to become immune to an antibiotic’s affects over a period of exposure time, it’s concerning that American children are consuming so much of them in meat. The FDA reports that 18 different types of antibiotics currently used on farms are considered high risk for increasing antibiotic-resistant bacteria outbreaks in humans.

The younger that children begin consuming antibiotics they don’t need, the more susceptible they become to bacteria-resistant diseases and infections. Considering that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that children as young as 2 years old consume 40 percent of their daily calories from fast-food restaurants, this is alarming. If this trend continues, we could once again be approaching a time where basic curable infections like strep throat become deadly to the masses.

The fast-food industry has no financial excuse for not using antibiotic-free meat and poultry. A Wall Street Journal article estimates that the cost to raise chickens without antibiotics is anywhere from 10 to 15 percent more expensive, which translates to about $2 more per pound at the supermarket.

However, consumers are willing to pay a premium for an increase in quality and food safety. The National Restaurant Association reports that among the top five most requested food items in restaurants for 2015 is locally sourced meats without processing or additives. Panera and Chipotle are the highest performing fast-casual chains according to the National Restaurant Association because they offer consumers this option. The cost to produce meat and poultry without antibiotics would be set off by an increase in profits, and positive consumer perceptions of companies that do this would grow as well.

Visiting fast-food eateries has been engrained into our culture, and for the near future, that’s not going to change. But what does need to change are the types of food that fast-food restaurants are offering. While antibiotics may solve an illness in a chicken coop for farmers who don’t want to lose a larger profit, they will create much more lethal problems for humans down the line if the trend continues.