KFC to Remove Antibiotics from Chicken

KFC will serve chicken raised without human antibiotics in the U.S. by the end of 2018, the company said Friday, adding its considerable weight to the push to change the way poultry is treated.

The Louisville, Ky.-based chain, the country’s second-largest fried chicken concept, behind Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A, said its commitment extends to both bone-in and boneless chicken.

“We’re constantly working to meet the changing preferences of our customers, while ensuring we deliver on the value they expect from KFC,” Kevin Hochman, president and chief concept officer of KFC U.S., said in a statement. “Offering chicken raised without medically important antibiotics is the next step in that journey.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York-based environmental group, has been pushing KFC for nearly a year to change its practices regarding antibiotics. The group endorses KFC’s move.

“KFC’s new policy
will be a game changer for the fast-food industry and public health,” Lena Brook, food policy advocate for the NRDC, said in a statement. “The market is responding to consumer demand for better meat. This commitment from the nation’s most iconic fast-food chicken chain will have a major impact on the way birds are raised in the U.S. and in the fight against the growing epidemic of drug-resistant infections.”

Hochman said the change required “a lot of planning,” including collaborating with more than 2,000 farms in more than a dozen states where its chickens are raised.

Farmers had used antibiotics in chickens to stimulate growth, but growing concern over the impact of this practice, and notably its potential to encourage antibiotic resistance in humans, has led to a push to change the practice.

The NRDC, which has helped lead the push, estimated that 40 percent of the chicken industry is now either under an antibiotics commitment or is already using responsible practices. Eleven of the 15 largest restaurant chains in the U.S. have committed to ending the use of antibiotics on some level.

There is some evidence that such actions can improve sales: McDonald’s Corp. said sales of its Chicken McNuggets increased last year, after the company said it removed antibiotics from the menu item.

It’s believed that KFC’s move could be significant in moving the industry overall closer toward not using antibiotics.

Matthew Wellington, program director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, or PIRG, a consumer group, said KFC’s move alone could push the percentage of the chicken industry under an antibiotics commitment or already using responsible practices to more than 50 percent. That would signal a major shift in chicken production, he said.

For one thing, KFC is a big buyer — it’s the largest chicken-on-the-bone quick-service chain in the country. By extending its commitment to bone-in chicken, many suppliers it uses will have to extend those policies to their entire flocks. Therefore, KFC’s move will affect more than just the chicken it buys, Wellington said.

“It’s making much more of a ripple effect,” Wellington told Nation’s Restaurant News.

In addition to eliminating the use of medically important antibiotics from chicken, KFC also pledged to remove artificial colors and flavors from its chicken. The company said 100-percent of its menu, excluding beverages and third-party products, would be free of food dyes by the end of the year.

“To extend our [antibiotics] commitment beyond our boneless menu items to include all of our chicken required detailed and thoughtful planning over the past year, including utilizing the USDA’s Process Verified program to ensure our suppliers can meet our requirements,” Vijay Sukumar, chief food innovation officer for KFC U.S., said in a statement. “We’re proud to make a commitment this expansive and believe this change will aid in shifting the rest of the industry.”

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