ConnPIRG campaign leads KFC to forego chicken raised with antibiotics

KFC said Friday, April 7, 2017,  that it will stop serving chickens raised with certain antibiotics. The fried chicken chain said the change will be completed by the end of next year at its more than 4,000 restaurants in the U.S.(Paul Sakuma/AP)

Consumer group ConnPIRG’s “save antibiotics” campaign recently led restaurant chain KFC to announce that it will soon only purchase chicken free of antibiotics.

Student activist group UConnPIRG is a ConnPIRG chapter.

“Their policy right now is by the end of 2018, all chicken purchased by KFC US will be raised without antibiotics important to human medicine,” Emily O’Hara campaign coordinator, incoming 2017-18 secretary for UConnPIRG and second-semester political science major, said.

O’Hara said that conversations about the consequences of antibiotic resistance have now expanded to a global level.

“I will say in September, antibiotic resistance reached the United Nations to discuss it as a global issue, so we used that opportunity to showcase our progress with KFC,” O’Hara said.

“It’s a very real issue that a lot of people hear about but don’t really know a lot about…it’s severe, and chicken are being raised on routine medical antibiotics that they don’t need because they’re not sick, so to phase out those antibiotics should produce a healthier consumer and have people eat healthier food.”

O’Hara said that letters, petition signatures and customer service calls to KFC asking them to take action all helped to spur the chain’s decision.

“To my knowledge, since January 2016 it’s been a nationwide effort. We’ve been sending letters to Yum! Brands, which is the KFC parent company, asking them and overall their conglomerate to phase out the routine use of medically-important antibiotics,” O’Hara said. “We’ve gathered about 90,000 petitions from PIRG specifically, but nationwide 475,000 petition signatures have been collected. And like I said, we have been calling their customer service line, but to give you an exact number, we’ve had 4,500 calls. And 5,000 photo petitions. So it’s been a lot of grassroots work.”

The campaign is particularly known by its hashtag #KFCsaveABX, according to O’Hara. It has generated substantial support on social media.

“There have been tweets, posts and various consumer calls into KFC customer service from concerned citizens,” O’Hara said.

UConnPIRG previously had success with its campaigns that called for McDonald’s and Subway to not buy products raised with routine antibiotics, O’Hara said.

“In 2015, in the spring, we actually started with McDonald’s, and asking them to commit to not really having chicken raised on routine antibiotics. And they committed really quickly. It was a great win for PIRG. And then we asked Subway to commit in the fall of 2015, and again that was another win for us,” O’Hara said.

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O’Hara said that UConnPIRG is “very excited” about KFC’s choice.

“Definitely since we ran the campaign we saw it as a huge win when we had it with McDonald’s and Subway, and to now have KFC join just shows that there’s a change in the industry and that our efforts have made a difference. It’s a major shift,” O’Hara said.

O’Hara said on Friday that she looked forward to hearing ConnPIRG’s reaction to KFC’s decision at a meeting the next day.

“We’re going to be having our state board meeting tomorrow actually, so it’ll be interesting to see what they say,” O’Hara said.

According to O’Hara, ConnPIRG will work to ensure that KFC follows through with its announcement.

“We are going to continue to thank the company through photo petitions and through posts on social media,” O’Hara said. “We’ve actually been in papers and we were on NPR, PIRG as a whole, to talk about the issue, so I think it will be continued efforts to show the visibility of the issue and the fact that KFC has addressed that so that they are held accountable. And if this doesn’t happen, we can address it.”

O’Hara said that the campaign’s success shows that consumers have concerns about antibiotic resistance.

“I think this demonstrates widespread consumer support, the fact that we’ve generated all of these petitions, these phone calls, and KFC has taken action, and ConnPIRG had urged the company to take those steps, so we can definitely count this as one of our wins and add it to our track record,” O’Hara said.


Alexandra Retter is staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexandra.retter@uconn.edu.