The new report grades the 25 largest US fast food chains on where they stand on antibiotics.
But 11 of the top 25 chains received an F, having taken “no (discernible) action to reduce use of antibiotics in their supply chains.”
Nine companies didn’t respond to the survey at all, just like last year.
“It’s a rapid shift that we’ve seen in just a few short years, and that leaves me really hopeful,” Brook said.
Who passed, and who didn’t?
A total of 14 fast food and “fast casual” chains earned passing grades, a boost over nine last year. There were only five the year before that, in 2015.
“It is important to note, however, that while remarkable progress has been made to reduce or even eliminate use of medically important antibiotics, this progress has largely occurred in chicken production,” the authors said.
This is how Chipotle and Panera have stood above the rest: by making sure that pork and beef — in addition to poultry — are raised without antibiotics.
“While we are pleased to see others in our industry follow our lead in this important area, this report shows that there is still more work to be done across the industry,” Chris Arnold, a Chipotle spokesman, said in an email.
When animals get antibiotics, often in their food or drinking water, the drugs may kill a number of bacteria. But a handful might harbor a gene that makes them resistant to drugs. Those bacteria may survive, multiply and spread.
These bugs “can move off of farms,” Brook said, “and find their way into communities.” They can even share their genes with weaker bacteria.
While some experts criticize the routine use of antibiotics, others defend the practice, saying that antibiotics play an important role in maintaining animal health and may prevent an entire herd of sick animals that require these drugs down the line.
Despite the improvements detailed in the new report, Brook said it’s unclear why there are so many “holdouts” with failing grades, many of whom did not answer the groups’ questions.
“These companies tend to have long-range contracts. Perhaps they’re buying from recalcitrant producers,” Brook suggested.
With so much variation among the top chains, she said it “points to the real need for federal policy to step in.”
By January, animal drug manufacturers no longer allowed medically important antibiotics to be prescribed solely for growth purposes, according to the FDA. But this left open the possibility that these drugs could be used to routinely prevent disease, even if no animals were sick, so long as a veterinarian had written a prescription.
“This represents a giant loophole in FDA guidelines, which effectively do little to stop the misuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture,” the authors of the new report said.
“While the FDA believes the prevention use of antimicrobials in animal agriculture can play an important role in effectively managing animal disease, it is critical that such use be judicious,” the agency said in a statement.
The FDA recommends that these drugs only be given if “there are no reasonable alternatives” to prevent disease. It doesn’t endorse giving these medications to “apparently healthy animals in the absence of any information that such animals were at risk of a specific disease,” the agency added.
“Because (the FDA’s) initiative was not fully implemented until January 2017, it is too early to speculate on how this effort may impact antimicrobial use in the animal agriculture setting,” the agency said of its plan, which launched in December 2013.
The vast majority of these drugs used in animals are tetracyclines, a class of antibiotics that also includes treatments for chlamydia, Lyme disease and other harmful microbes in humans.
“These are drugs that are really, in plain words, important to the functioning of human medicine as we know it,” said Brook.
“What I’m mostly hoping for is that this (report) … will inspire companies to make similar commitments really quickly.”
CNN’s Ben Tinker and Puja Bhattacharjee contributed to this report.