Fast food giant Chick-fil-A this week announced it will transition to serving only antibiotic-free chicken. The restaurant chain—which has more than 1,700 stores in the U.S., sponsors marquee athletic events like the Chick-fil-A Bowl and specifically markets to fans of college athletics—plans to serve only chicken raised without antibiotics within five years.
A post on the company’s official Twitter account said the change is being made in response to consumer demand. Other fast food restaurants have attracted scrutiny recently over the ingredients in their foods, including Subway for using azodicarbonamide, a chemical involved in plastics processing, in some of their breads.
The use of antibiotics in the raising of livestock was recently slammed by a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report, which stated that eating animal products treated with antibiotics can increase the likelihood of contracting diseases resistant to antibiotics, and which called the practice “unnecessary and inappropriate.”
Chick-fil-A’s five-year timeline has been criticized as too long, but the company says it needs that much time to make adjustments to its supply chain. “[It] requires changes along every point of the supply chain—from the hatchery to the processing plant,” said Tim Tassopoulos, executive vice president of operations, in a press release.
The change will likely cause the cost of Chick-fil-A’s sandwiches to increase, though it’s unclear by how much. In an interview with The New York Times, Tassopoulous said, “it has a potential cost ramification, both to us and to our customers . . . [but] we are going to do everything we can to minimize the impact on the prices of our products.”
Chick-fil-A won’t be the first restaurant to serve antibiotic-free meat. Popular Mexican fast food restaurant Chipotle has made antibiotic-free food a central tenet of its strategy. But Chick-fil-A’s switch may signal a larger shift within the fast food industry, which increasingly finds its ingredients and procurement methods under a microscope thanks to social media. Like she did with the removal of azodicarbonamide from Subway’s bread, food blogger Vani Hari may have played a role in Chick-fil-A’s decision. She reportedly met with the company in 2012, and claims to have told them that removing antibiotics from their chicken was her top request during the meeting. Several news outlets have credited Hari with Chick-fil-A’s decision.
For consumers, determining what’s in their chicken can be tricky. By U.S. law, all chicken must be raised without added growth hormones. But antibiotic use varies widely across the many brands of chicken and other meats sold in grocery stores. To learn more, read Consumer Reports’ excellent breakdown of many the chicken labels you see at the grocer.