- Advocacy organization U.S. PIRG is calling on Wendy's to end the use of medically unnecessary antibiotics in the quick-serve restaurant's beef supply chain in a campaign that includes protests at Wendy's restaurants.
- Wendy's has already reduced by 20% the use of one antibiotic (tylosin) in 20% of its supply chain — what U.S. PIRG called a "minor step forward." This action earned the chain a grade of D- in the Chain Reaction IV: Burger Addition report put out by U.S. PIRG and four other environmental groups along with Consumer Reports. Wendy's was the third highest scoring quick-serve burger restaurant, with only Shake Shack and BurgerFi receiving higher scores (both A).
- "If Wendy’s ups the ante on reducing antibiotic use in its beef supply chain, it can help preserve our ability to treat life-threatening infections," Matthew Wellington, director of U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics Campaign, said in a statement. "Wendy’s likes to say it's 'deliciously different.' Here’s a chance for the company to differentiate itself by being a leader in combating antibiotic resistance."
In 2017, the World Heath Organization issued guidelines on the proper use of medically-important antibiotics in food-producing animals. Though several of the major fast-food chains have now acknowledged that routine antibiotic use can contribute to antibiotic resistance across species, U.S. PIRG argues Wendy's needs to go further to have a real impact on the problem.
The environmental group makes the dual argument that by using its buying power to change its supply chain, Wendy's can help to reduce the roughly 162,000 Americans that die from resistant infections per year and also differentiate itself in the marketplace — especially since meat quality and "fresh, never frozen beef" claims have been part of Wendy's marketing for years.
With somewhat of a head start, Wendy's may indeed be able to achieve some market differentiation should it choose to remove medically unnecessary antibiotics from the rest of its beef supply. It is already one of the few quick-serve restaurants to use third-party auditors to ensure compliance with the existing antibiotic use standards it has adopted (joined by Shake Shack and A&W, according to the Chain Reaction Report). But it will likely not be alone in these efforts for long.
In December, McDonald's pledged to remove routine antibiotics from 85% of its meat supply chain — it will set a timeline for this benchmark in 2020. McDonald's and Wendy's successfully removed unnecessary antibiotics from their chicken supply chains. Beef and pork supply chains are more complex, since larger animals tend to change hands multiple times before slaughter, which is likely why these supply chains have seen slower change.