Chipotle Mexican Grill said it applauds the Food and Drug Administration’s attention to the overuse of antibiotics in livestock farming, but urges the agency and the industrial animal agriculture sector to do more. While Chipotle sees the FDA’s voluntary plan as a good first step, the company believes more intervention is needed to stop the abuse of antibiotics in farming.

“We are pleased that the FDA is paying attention to the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals, and are glad to see them taking this first step,” said Steve Ells, founder, chairman and co-CEO of Chipotle. “But there are gaps in the program, particularly that it continues to allow antibiotic use for prevention of disease, and compliance is voluntary. While FDA has a good track record using guidance to drive change, we hope they will monitor progress closely as producers could have stopped using antibiotics on their own at any time, but few have chosen to do so.”

FDA’s proposed plan asks, but does not require, chicken, beef and pork producers to reduce the quantities of antibiotics given to animals to promote growth, while allowing for continued antibiotic use for the treatment, prevention and control of illness. Under the plan, antibiotic use in feed would require a prescription. The FDA hopes its plan will slow the indiscriminate use of antibiotics, which contributes to antibiotic resistance in humans.

“These voluntary guidelines seem unlikely to cause producers to change the practices that necessitate dependence on drugs in the first place. It’s an important first step, but stronger action will be needed to bring about meaningful change in an industry where their practices are so well entrenched,” Ells said.

Chipotle began serving naturally raised meat – meat from animals that are raised in a humane way and never given antibiotics or added hormones – more than a decade ago. Today, all the meat Chipotle serves is naturally raised and the company continues to use more naturally raised meat than any other restaurant in the country: more than 120 million pounds in 2012. Under Chipotle’s program, antibiotics may only be used to treat sick animals, but those animals must then be removed from its program.

In 1977, the FDA first determined that using penicillins and tetracyclines to make animals grow faster was no longer “shown to be safe,” as research had linked such uses to the development of antibiotic resistance. In 2009, the FDA released data revealing that 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States were sold for use in food animal production.

Read more about food safety.

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