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KFC Shareholders Want the Company to Ditch Antibiotics

McDonald's, Subway, and Chick-fil-A have already pledged to go antibiotic-free

KFC To Stop Using Trans Fats Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

More than a year after McDonald’s announced it would begin serving antibiotic-free chicken and milk at all its U.S. stores, shareholders are urging KFC to adopt a similar policy. Reuters reports that investors in KFC parent company Yum Brands filed a shareholder proposal on Tuesday “requesting that it quickly phase out harmful antibiotic use in its meat supply.”

A slew of rival fast-food chains have already gone antibiotic-free. KFC’s largest rival in the chicken business, Chick-fil-A, announced it would begin phasing out antibiotics back in 2014. Subway ditched antibiotics — starting with its rotisserie chicken — earlier this year; Taco Bell (also owned by Yum Brands) said its chicken would be antibiotic-free as of 2017.

A recent report by Packaged Facts found that six in 10 diners say that “all natural” is important to them when selecting meat/poultry dishes at a restaurant. But at least as prevalently, those consumers also weigh whether the dish has no hormones, no antibiotics, and no preservatives. According to shareholders, if KFC doesn’t hop aboard the antibiotic-free train, it might just get left at the station.

Unfortunately for the chicken chain, antibiotics aren't the only area in which KFC is lagging. Chick-fil-A, for instance, has fewer than half the locations of KFC, but each store brings in more than three times as much revenue as the average KFC.

KFC has been under pressure to shun antibiotics for some time now, as critics have expressed concerns that the use of human drugs in meat production exacerbates the rise of deadly 'superbugs' — i.e., bacteria that resist treatment.

The chain has stated very little (at least publicly) regarding its stance on antibiotics. Its official “Antibiotic Statement” is incredibly brief, saying only that its U.S. suppliers “are removing medically important antimicrobials used for production purposes and ensuring that the use of such drugs for therapeutic treatment is overseen by a licensed veterinarian.” In other words, antibiotics will still be used, but only by someone with a license.

Today’s shareholder resolution takes issue with that statement, arguing that KFC is poised to “lose market share to companies who have stronger policies in place.” The shareholders specifically request that Yum Brands adopts “an enterprise-wide policy to phase out the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion and disease prevention in its meat and poultry supply chain,” asking that the company publishes timetables and measures for implementing the policy.

Shareholders Press Yum for Stricter Antibiotics Policy [Reuters]

KFC Under Pressure to Serve Antibiotic-Free Chicken [Eater]

McDonald's Axes Chicken and Milk Treated With Human Antibiotics [Eater]

All KFC Coverage [Eater]