Pizza Hut promises antibiotic-free wings and side orders by 2022

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The fast food chain has taken last year's promise to eliminate antibiotics from pizza a step further.

Last year, Pizza Hut said it would eliminate chicken raised with antibiotics from its pizza toppings. Now, the company has taken its promise a step further, vowing to eliminate antibiotics "important to human medicine" from all chicken wings and other side orders.

It is a move in the right direction for a company that has a significant amount of clout in the industry. Pizza Hut, which was founded in 1958 when two brothers from Wichita, Kansas, asked to borrow $600 from their mother to start a pizzeria, has long dominated the world's pizza scene, but was just surpassed earlier this year by Domino's. Still, the chain did an impressive $12.03 billion in sales and, according to a press release, "delivers more pizza, pasta and wings than any other restaurant in the world."

So, when a company of this size makes a decision driven by ethics and environmental concerns, other big players in the industry pay attention. Marianne Radley, chief brand officer for Pizza Hut, said in a statement:

"We are dedicated to listening to our customers and to serving better food. Today's announcement to no longer serve chicken raised with antibiotics by 2022 demonstrates our commitment to serve food that not only tastes great, but that customers can feel good about eating."

Avoiding meat raised with antibiotics is important for a number of reasons. First, the industrial-style agriculture that dominates U.S. farming practices relies on antibiotics for disease prevention, mainly because animals are kept in cruelly cramped conditions and are unable to exercise normal behaviors, such as stretching their wings or enjoying dirt baths. This is unethical and cruel, and should not be tolerated.

Second, excessive use of antibiotics drives antibiotic resistance, which is a matter of growing concern for health care providers. Currently farmers in the U.S. use 80 percent of the nation's antibiotics on livestock animals, which is driving cases of antibiotic resistance. It's only a matter of time, some critics say, until things get really ugly. A year ago I wrote, "One British study estimates that, unless we get antibiotic use under control by 2050, the death toll will be 10 million people per year."

Finally, antibiotics are used by farmers to fatten animals rapidly and reduce the amount of time needed to feed and keep them prior to slaughter. There are concerns that the drugs may have the same effect on humans eating that meat. Early research into this has found that antibiotics throw off the balance of microorganism species in the gut, and can change the way food is digested, promoting weight gain.

We should note that Pizza Hut's promise extends only to those antibiotics "deemed important to human medicine", as defined by the World Health Organization, meaning that the chain can still serve meat raised with some antibiotics, but will avoid those considered crucial to maintaining human health.

The 2022 start date is disappointingly distant for some critics, who point out that Pizza Hut's fellow members of the Yum! Brands group, such as KFC, are implementing similar changes by the end of 2018. Surely Pizza Hut could hustle faster if it wanted to -- but still, some progress is better than none.

Pizza Hut promises antibiotic-free wings and side orders by 2022
The fast food chain has taken last year's promise to eliminate antibiotics from pizza a step further.

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