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McDonald’s promising antibiotic-free chicken in U.S., but not in Canada

FILE - This Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, file photo showsa McDonald's Big Mac sandwich at a McDonald's restaurant in Robinson Township, Pa. The world’s biggest hamburger chain is confronting unappetizing questions as part of a U.S. campaign to beat back perceptions that it serves Frankenfood. The company has run similar campaigns in Canada and Australia and said Monday, Oct. 13, 2014, it’s bringing the effort to its flagship market. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
he spokesperson said that McDonald’s Canada will be working with suppliers, regulators and the industry while complying with Health Canada rules while it decides what to do next. AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File

McDonald’s says it’s planning on using antibiotic-free chicken and milk from cows that aren’t treated with artificial growth hormones in the U.S., but the new measures aren’t being implemented in Canada.

McDonald’s Canada says that’s because Canada has its own sourcing and supply chain. So far, it’s “made no decision at this time to change our current approach with chicken.”

“In Canada, chicken farmers may only use antibiotics under the guidance of a veterinarian when birds are sick. Their use is federally regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and strict withdrawal periods are required before the chicken is processed into food to ensure that no residual medications are present in the product,” a McDonald’s spokesperson told Global News in an email.

“We will be evaluating the implications of only sourcing chicken raised without antibiotics that are important to human medicine…We remain committed to the safety and quality of the food we serve in our restaurants,” the statement said.

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The spokesperson said that McDonald’s Canada will be working with suppliers, regulators and the industry while complying with Health Canada rules while it decides what to do next.

The move in the U.S. will be a two-year process. Suppliers will still be able to use ionophores, antibiotics that keep chickens healthy and aren’t used in humans.

The adjustment to milk free of hormones should happen later this year.

READ MORE: As more Canadians pass on fast food, McDonald’s tries to get fitter

Many cattle, hog and poultry producers give their livestock antibiotics to make them grow faster and ensure they are healthy. The practice has become a public health issue, with officials saying it can lead to germs becoming resistant to drugs so that they’re no longer effective in treating a particular illness in humans.

Fast food companies are under intense scrutiny as consumers and advocates are calling for healthier, fresh fare.

Chains such as Chipotle and Panera are already serving chicken free of antibiotics, but fast food giants are trying to play catch-up.

Last March, U.S. health food blogger Vani Hari — known as Food Babe — launched a petition calling on Subway to remove a chemical from its bread. (You might remember her for spearheading a crusade urging Kraft to remove the orange dyes from the iconic Kraft Dinner.)

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READ MORE: Chemical in Subway bread also in Canada, but will be removed, company says

On her website, she noted that the chemical azodicarbonamide wasn’t used in other countries such as the U.K., across the European Union and in Australia. But it was readily found in North American subway bread — nine grain wheat, nine grain honey oat, Italian white, Italian Herbs and Cheese, Parmesan Oregano, Roasted Garlic, Sourdough and Monterrey Cheddar breads, to be precise.

The World Health Organization linked azodicarbonamide to respiratory issues, asthma and allergies. Hari said that the chemical was used to make yoga mats, shoe soles and other rubbery objects.

READ MORE: What Canadians want to know about what’s in fast food meals

In Subway’s case, it was being used as a bleaching agent and dough conditioner, which allowed the company to produce bread faster and cheaper, according to Hari’s petition.

By April, Subway promised its sandwich bread would be free of the contentious “yoga mat” chemical.

– With files from the Associated Press

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

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