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Washington (dpa) - Fast-food giant McDonald's is asking suppliers to stop using antibiotics as livestock growth promoters, a practice feared to make the drugs less effective in humans, a news report said Thursday.
The move could mark a turning point for livestock feeding practice in U.S. agriculture. The hamburger chain is the country's single biggest beef buyer and among the largest purchasers of pork and chicken, The Washington Post reported.
"This policy is global, and it goes beyond anything we have seen from other companies," Rebecca Goldburg of advocacy group Environmental Defence told the Post.
Farmers have long used small doses of antibiotics in animal feed to suppress minor infections, which can sap energy that would otherwise go into faster muscle growth. However, low doses can allow bacteria in the animals to evolve immunity to the antibiotics, creating "super-bugs" that could also infect humans.
Some older antibiotics, such as penicillin, are already much less effective than they originally were, and health experts warn that the same may happen to new drugs. The European Union, in an effort to slow the trend, voted in 1998 to ban low-dose antibiotics in livestock feed.
U.S. farm groups say that non-agricultural practices, such as use of antibiotics by people with viral infections, are more responsible for resistant bacteria.
McDonald's new policy - to be in effect worldwide by late 2004 - will prohibit its direct suppliers from using 24 antibiotic growth promoters and encourage independent farmers to do the same, said the report. Farmers will still be allowed to use the drugs to fight active disease in livestock.
Copyright 2003 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH