A group of Yum! Brands shareholders — led by a group of Philadelphia nuns and a non-profit environmental organization — want the mega-chain company to stop using any forms of meat raised with antibiotics. This week, the Yum! investors filed a proposal asking that all Yum! brands — KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell — phase out all such meats from the supply chain "quickly."
The shareholders are represented in the proposal by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia and As You Sow, a nonprofit that works to enhance environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy and other legal strategies.
Antibiotic use in meat is becoming an increasingly important issue to many consumers, who maintain that meats raised with antibiotics used to treat humans threatens human health. The World Health Organization and other scientific organizations say antibiotic-resistant "super-bugs" have grown to a life-threatening problem worldwide, according to experts, who believe that overuse of antibiotics in the food chain is rapidly making as much as 70 percent of all human antibiotics ineffective.
In the livestock industry, antibiotics used to treat human sickness are also often used to both prevent sickness in livestock and enhance animals' overall size in order to create bigger, meatier animals for consumption. The problem is that the widespread use of the medicines in the food supply has basically trained the bacteria to grow resistant to the medicines used to save human life.
"Yum! Brands' silence in the face of this looming antibiotic resistance crisis is bad for business," said Environmental Health Program Manager Austin Wilson in a news release about the shareholder action. "The future is in healthy and sustainable food. Only two in five millennials have ever tried KFC. They are the consumers that care most about sustainable food."
For its part, Yum! Brands has made some commitments to reduce the use of antibiotics in its meat supply chain, including a commitment in June by Pizza Hut to use only chicken in its dishes that has been raised without human antibioticsby March of next year. Likewise, Taco Bell hascommitted to ending its use of antibiotic-raised meat sometime next year.
An April report on Yum! Brands' overall sustainability and environmental practices failed to produce any new information about reducing or eliminating antibiotics in the meat supply chain beyond saying the company would follow the FDA's phase-out plan of growth-promoting antibiotics next year. That FDA plan is considered by many experts to be inadequate to address the threat.
This morning, Yum! Brands responded via email, to a request for a comment about the shareholders' proposal:
"Our position on antibiotics is currently being reviewed to determine the viability for our suppliers to go beyond the FDA guidelines for antibiotics usage," wrote KFC Public Affairs Associate Manager Kasey Mathes. "Our current position, as published on our website, is 'KFC U.S. works closely with suppliers to minimize the use of antibiotics important in human medicine at the farms that supply our restaurants. By 2017, antibiotics important in human medicine will only be used to maintain chicken health, and only under the supervision and prescription of a licensed veterinarian. The use of these antibiotics for growth promotion is not allowed.'"
Environmental groups have been upping the pressure on Yum! Brands, as a result of what they perceive to be overall inaction. In May, for instance, the National Resources Defense Council kicked off a campaign to get KFC to phase out use of meat raised with antibiotics. Many of Yum's competitors have acted, including McDonald's and Subway.
The two stockholder groups that filed the proposal this week with the Louisville-based company said in a news release that "antibiotic use in livestock can be reduced without significant costs to producers by creating better living conditions, increasing cleanliness, and using vaccinations."
For example, Denmark — a major pork exporter — banned non-therapeutic antibiotic use in pigs over 15 years ago.