McDonald's Corp. will phase out over the next two years the use of chickens raised with antibiotics important to human health in a step to combat resistance to antibiotics.
The Oak Brook, Ill. fast food giant said Wednesday that later this year it will also begin selling only milk from cows that are not treated with the artificial growth hormone rbST.
Farmers in the company's supply chain can continue to use ionophores, a type of antibiotic not used for humans, on their chickens.
"Our customers want food that they feel great about eating — all the way from the farm to the restaurant — and these moves take a step toward better delivering on those expectations," Mike Andres, head of McDonald's U.S.A, said in a statement.
The move comes three days after Steve Easterbrook took over as chief executive of the fast food chain, which has suffered from declining sales and perceptions that its food is unhealthy.
The move is a major step toward combating the rise of antibiotic-resistant "super bugs" and could set a trend across the industry, analysts and consumer advocates said.
Jonathan Kaplan, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Food and Agriculture program, called the move a "landmark announcement in the fight to keep life-saving antibiotics working for us and our children."
"In doing so, they are setting the bar for the entire fast food industry," he said in a statement.
Kaplan urged the chain to spread the new antibiotics curbs to all their restaurants globally.
McDonald's announcement follows a 2013 move by the Food and Drug Administration to end the use of antibiotics to promote faster growth of farm animals, but allow their use to treat sick animals.
More than 2 million people in the U.S. now contract drug-resistant infections annually, resulting in 23,000 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a statement, McDonald's said it will continue to treat ill animals with prescribed antibiotics but that the poultry will no longer be included in its food supply.
McDonald's is the latest in a line of restaurant chains and meat suppliers to reduce the use of antibiotics in their food supply. Chick-fil-A Inc. said in early 2014 it would serve chicken raised without antibiotics in all of its U.S. restaurants within five years.
"We hope McDonald's new policy will inspire other companies to make similar changes to their meat supply -- to the benefit of the public good, and their corporate bottom line," he said in a statement.