McDonald’s to serve antibiotic-free chicken, sort of

© Robert Galbraith
Global food giant McDonald’s is cleaning up its menu by removing artificial preservatives and antibiotics from its popular processed food brands. The change comes as the company tries to win back today’s more health-conscious customers.

McDonald’s said Monday it will be processing Chicken McNuggets and other items without artificial preservatives and removing high-fructose corn syrup from burger buns, according to the Associated Press.

The global giant also said it was a year ahead of schedule in its commitment of only serving chicken from its suppliers “not treated with antibiotics important to human medicine.*”

The asterisk is important, as in the fine print, the company explains, “*Farmers still use ionophores, a class of antibiotics that are not prescribed to people, to help keep chickens healthy.”


McDonald’s’ decision comes at a time of global concern over antibiotic resistance and the rise of superbugs that cannot be treated with current antibiotics.

A 2014 report by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that drug resistance was occurring globally and affecting many different infectious agents. In particular, it found that high-level antibiotic resistance in the bacteria responsible for bloodstream infections (sepsis), diarrhea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and gonorrhea was becoming widespread.

The decision comes as the fast food giant tries to salvage its popularity with customers in the US, who are preferring restaurant chains that tout wholesome alternatives, while confronting the perception that its burgers and fries are seen as “processed junk food.”

McDonald's spokeswoman Becca Hary said the company got rid of an artificial preservative used in the cooking oil for McNuggets and now makes McNuggets themselves with “ingredients that sound more familiar to people,” such as pea starch and rice starch, according to USA Today.

Hary said the new McNuggets taste the same.

In the past year, the company switched to butter from margarine for its Egg McMuffins and changed its salads to include kale and spinach.

Michael Jacobson from the Center for Science in the Public Interest told the AP, “swapping out high-fructose for sugar doesn’t make burger buns any healthier,” and doesn’t address the “big picture problem with restaurant food – the overabundance of calories.”

Combined, the changes announced Monday affect ingredients in nearly half the food on the chain’s US menu. There will be no increased cost for customers, Hary said.

Investors have been watching McDonald’s in particular, as its CEO Steve Easterbrook implements a multi-year comeback plan to make fast-food relevant to today’s dining standards. McDonald’s has also been closing underperforming locations and is scheduled to close more than 14,000 this year.

Last week, the company’s quarterly sales report for the US showed a disappointing rise of 1.8 percent, according to the AP. Globally, the company said it is doing better with sales rising 3.1 percent, with a 2.6 percent increase in markets in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. The high-growth segment is in China and Russia, which saw a 1.6 percent increase. Its total sales were $6.27 billion, said the company.