Chipotle backing stronger FDA limits on farm animal antibiotics

The restaurant chain Chipotle Mexican Grill says more needs to be done about antibiotic use in farm animals, a practice that strengthens drug-resistant superbugs. 

The statement from Chipotle came shortly after federal health regulators appealed a court order to begin banning certain drugs from farm feed, eliciting criticism from lawmakers and public health advocates.

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In an interview with Public Radio International (PRI), Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold praised the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for announcing new guidance on the issue this spring but noted that the standards are voluntary, not required. 

"The use of antibiotics in industry or animal agriculture solves an entirely man-made problem," Arnold said.

"We’ve maintained that if you raise animals in ways that emphasize good animal husbandry and good care for the animals, the antibiotics just simply aren’t necessary."

The FDA guidance recommends "phasing out the agricultural production use of medically important drugs," according to a release. 

Chipotle policy supports using "naturally raised" animals when sourcing meat, Arnold said. 

According to the chain's website, all pork served in its restaurants is from pigs raised outdoors, on a vegetarian diet, and without antibiotics. Chipotle's "ultimate goal" is to do the same for its beef and poultry, the site says. 

Arnold praised consumers for an increase in awareness of food safety issues. 

"As that conversation has started to become more mainstream, we’ve begun to incorporate those same ideas and messages just under the belief that people are ready for it," he told PRI. 

"People want to know where their food comes from and how it gets to them." 

On Friday, a House Democrat called the FDA's recent court appeal on antibiotics a "dereliction of duty." 

"I suppose it’s not much of a surprise," Rep. Louise Slaughter (N.Y.) said of the FDA. "They’ve buried their heads in the sand and ignored the threat of antibiotic resistance for well over 30 years. But avoiding this problem … only increases the threat to our public health."

Slaughter, a microbiologist, is the author of H.R. 965, which would prevent the overuse of seven classes of antibiotics.