Public interest group kicks off KFC antibiotic abuse campaign
In 2013, up to 2 million people were infected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, according to the Center for Disease Control. Nearly 23,000 of these victims died from their infections.
Over the last year, the United States Public Interest Research Group has been campaigning against using antibiotics in healthy farm animals, said Arielle Mizrahi, coordinator for the Rutgers chapter of the campaign. The group kicked off their Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC)-specific campaign on Jan. 27.
“It’s amazing because it’s not only this statewide effort or this student effort here, it’s a campaign happening all across the country,” she said. “It’s an incredible thing to think (about), there is a huge (number) of students doing this now.”
Using antibiotics can result in increased numbers of bacteria able to survive them, according to Tufts University’s website. The medications can kill susceptible pathogens, leading the survivors to reproduce.
The “overuse and abuse of antibiotics” means there are now greater amounts of resistant bacteria, according to the site.
Because these antibiotics are used extensively on chicken farms, they pose a genuine health issue for consumers, Mizrahi said.
“This is a huge public health issue that no one is really taking a stab at and that’s the whole idea,” she said. “We’re here for the public interest. The public interest is safety, it’s making sure our public health is safe.”
But the campaign is not advocating against antibiotics in general. The focus is on overusing these drugs in unnecessary situations, Mizrahi said.
“Antibiotics are meant to be used on animals or people that are sick, not to prevent sickness,” she said. “Some bacteria are just naturally going to be resistant, so (if) you kill off the other ones, the resistant ones proliferate, and that’s a huge public health concern.”
Antibiotics may directly result in dangerous pathogens infecting humans, according to Reuters.
McDonalds announced they would stop using antibiotics in their chickens in March 2015, according to the article.
The fast-food chain was the first one that PIRG focused on last year, Mizrahi said.
“We started with the (Food and Drug Administration), but we realized they’re reactive and not proactive on many of the issues, so we changed to the fast-food chains that serve a lot of young people,” she said.
These restaurants typically see a younger clientele, she said. Encouraging college students and other younger customers to take part in the campaign helps ensure its success.
Social media is a powerful tool used by PIRG during these campaigns, she said.
“(Restaurants) care about social media, so we flood their pages with photo petitions saying ‘hey KFC, hey McDonalds, we want you to listen,’ and they listen,” she said. “After McDonalds we went after Subway, which is the world’s largest restaurant chain, and they actually stopped using antibiotics last December.”
The previous successes give hope to the students participating in the newest campaign. Part of this comes from understanding that restaurants are aiming to increase the number of customers they see, she said.
“We can target restaurants (because they) listen to their consumer base," she said. "It’s giving them this whole idea that if they stop using antibiotics, they’ll gain this whole consumer base."
A lot of the success PIRG enjoys comes from its participants, she said. Many of the activists in a campaign are college students who help out when they can.
While students may lead busy lives, she said if they contribute a portion of their time to a worthy cause they can have an impact.
“There are so many social issues going on right now and we have a voice,” she said. “We’re going to use it.”