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Why McDonalds' Chicken Decision Should Change the Way You Buy Meat

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This week, McDonald’s announced they are phasing out the use of chicken raised with antibiotics. The change will happen over the next two years in all of their 14,000 locations nationwide. This is a huge move for the fast food giant: Antibiotic-free chicken is better for you, but it’s also pricier, an interesting battle for the notoriously cheap and unhealthy chain. (Is Fast Food Going Gourmet?)

Bulk food giant Costco also announced they are working toward ending the sale of meats from animals raised with antibiotics this week. This comes not only in the wake of Mickey D’s announcement, but also after a recent study from Georgia State University that found that “big box” retailers—like Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, and Costco—are partially responsible for America’s obesity problem. (Try these 5 Ways to Avoid Bulking Up from Bulk Foods.) 

“Antibiotics are used in livestock in four ways: to treat, prevent or control disease, and to promote growth,” explains Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., a nutrition consultant in Chicago. “Overuse in animals—including pigs, cows, and poultry—may contribute to both animal and human’s becoming more resistant to antibiotic, meaning the medicine will be less effective when we’re sick.”

This is the same logic behind why you shouldn’t push your doctor on writing you a script when you’re under the weather: Doctors giving out antibiotics too frequently has led to a lot more resistant organisms that we’re now having to treat, explained David Fleming, M.D., chair of medicine at the University of Missouri and president of the American College Of Physicians.

“It’s probably a good idea that these food retailers are making the shift, because it helps send a message to only use antibiotics when 100 percent necessary in animals—like when they’re sick, instead of as a growth booster,” Blatner adds.

People should opt for meats labeled “organic” whenever possible, which guarantee the beef, pork, or poultry is free of antibiotics and added hormones. Also consider pasture-raised and grass-fed meats, Blatner adds. “What animals eat become part of their muscles and meat that we then eat, so high-quality animal diets are good for humans as well,” she explains. (What about the rest of your grocery cart? Ask the Diet Doctor: The Truth About "Organic" Foods.)

Blatner is the first to admit that these healthier meats come at a price. Her wallet-friendly solution? Well, it’s not to hit the drive-thru more once your local McDonalds offers antibiotic-free chicken—McNuggets are still fried, after all.

“Increase your plant-based proteins so you can keep the expensive, organic meat portions smaller and more economical,” she explains. Also try one of these other ways to Save Money on Healthy Foods and have yourself a real happy meal.

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