KFC commits to eliminate human antibiotics from its chicken following years of criticism

KFC will only buy chicken free of human antibiotics by the end of 2018. | Courtesy of KFC Corp.

By the end of 2018, a KFC bucket will only contain the thighs, wings, breast and legs of chickens that weren’t given human antibiotics.

The Louisville-based fast-food chain announced early Friday morning that it was now committed to eliminating antibiotics that are important to human medicine from all of its chicken.

“We’re constantly working to meet the changing preferences of our customers, while ensuring we deliver on the value they expect from KFC. Offering chicken raised without medically important antibiotics is the next step in that journey,” Kevin Hochman, president and chief concept officer for KFC U.S., said in the announcement. “Making this change was complex and took a lot of planning. It required close collaboration with more than 2,000 farms, most of them family owned and managed, in more than a dozen U.S. states where they raise our chickens.”

KFC said it would use the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Process Verified program to make sure its suppliers meet the proper requirements.

In addition to eliminating human antibiotics, KFC also will remove all artificial colors and flavors by the end of 2018.

KFC is the second Louisville this week to make an ingredient change for the sake of health and consumer demands. Earlier this week, Papa John’s International said that it was responding to consumer demands in testing organic ingredients at its Lexington stores, saying in part, “At Papa John’s, we are constantly looking at ways to meet the needs of our customers whether it’s through our clean label initiative or testing organic produce.”

Reducing the amount of antibiotic-free chicken that KFC uses has been a goal for the company and part of parent company Yum Brands’ annual corporate social responsibility report. However, company executives would never go as far as to say they would eliminate them completely, until now.

Last summer, the Natural Resources Defense Council delivered more than 350,000 petitions to KFC asking it to stop buying chickens with human antibiotics.

“While federal antibiotics policy stagnates, the market is responding to consumer demand for better meat,” Lena Brook, food policy advocate at NRDC, said in a news release about the KFC announcement. “This commitment from the nation’s most iconic fast-food chicken chain will have a major impact on the way the birds are raised in the U.S. and in the fight against the growing epidemic of drug-resistant infections.”

Consumer and environmental advocacy organization U.S. Public Interest Research Group applauded the decision, citing the rise of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.”

“This announcement is a win for anybody who might someday depend on antibiotics to get well or even save their lives — i.e. everybody,” Matthew Wellington, program director for U.S. PIRG’s antibiotics program, said in a news release. “It’s also a welcome step by KFC. The company’s newfound commitment on antibiotics should have lasting effects on the way these life-saving medicines are used in the chicken industry.”

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) also long campaigned against KFC, releasing videos of how the company’s supplier keep and kill chickens. The organization also has spoken out about the use of antibiotics in the chicken.

Following the announcement, PETA re-upped its disdain for the chicken chain.

“While decades of dosing factory-farmed chickens with drugs to increase the amount of breast meat that they produce has caused antibiotic-resistance problems for humans, KFC’s move still means that those animals are going to be raised while standing amid their own waste,” PETA said in a statement sent to IL. “The birds who end up in buckets and boxes are not even given enough space to spread a single wing, and PETA has caught workers at KFC suppliers stomping on and throwing chickens like footballs. Consumers shouldn’t be fooled — the best way to avoid antibiotics in our food and help stop cruelty to animals is simply to go vegan.”