KFC is owned by Louisville, Kentucky-based Yum Brands, which has no publicly stated policy on antibiotic use in the production of meat it buys. Chick-fil-A, another chicken restaurant chain that competes with KFC, says about 20 percent of the chicken it serves is raised without any antibiotics, and that its entire supply chain will be converted by 2019.
Both McDonald's and Yum are stepping up efforts to win back younger and wealthier diners lured away by chains such as such as Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread, which boast antibiotic-free meats and other high-quality ingredients. Yum's KFC restaurants in China two years ago suffered a massive sales hit following local media reports that a few poultry farmers supplying KFC fed excessive levels of antibiotics to their chickens.
"The train has left the station," Bob Goldin, a food services company consultant at Technomic in Chicago, said of McDonald's influence on U.S. chicken production standards.
Yum, which also owns the Taco Bell and Pizza Hut chains, declined to discuss its standards for antibiotic use in meat production.
"The chicken served in our U.S. restaurants is USDA high quality, and free of antibiotics," the company said in an emailed response to Reuters queries.
The antibiotic-free statement refers to a lack of residue in the meat served at its restaurants and not the practice of delivering antibiotics to chickens before they are slaughtered, said Steven Roach, food safety program director at Food Animal Concerns Trust in Chicago.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has three classifications for poultry, A, B, and C, and doesn't have a "high quality" designation for chicken. Poultry rated A is what's typically found at retail, while poultry rated B or C is usually used in further-processed products where the meat is cut up, chopped, or ground, according to a USDA website.