(Adds In-N-Out comment)
By Lisa Baertlein
LOS ANGELES, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Hamburger chain In-N-Out Burger is the newest target in a push by public health, environmental and consumer groups to convince high-profile food sellers to stop serving meat from animals fed a routine diet of antibiotics.
The new campaign from CALPIRG Education Fund, Friends of the Earth, the Center for Food Safety and other public interest groups was launched amid growing concern that the overuse of such drugs is contributing to increasing numbers of life-threatening human infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria, known as "superbugs."
Privately held In-N-Out, which has more than 300 restaurants in California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Texas and Oregon, is known for using fresh ingredients such as never-frozen ground beef and hand-cut french fries.
Activists are pressing the company to follow the lead of popular chains such as Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc, Panera Bread Co and Shake Shack Inc, which already serve meat raised without the routine use of antibiotics.
"It's time for the company to set a strong antibiotics policy that will help push the meat industry to do the right thing for public health," said Jason Pfeifle, public health advocate for the CALPIRG Education Fund.
"Our company is committed to beef that is not raised with antibiotics important to human medicine and we've asked our suppliers to accelerate their progress toward establishing antibiotic alternatives," Keith Brazeau, vice president of quality for Irvine, California-based In-N-Out Burger said in an emailed statement to Reuters.
Brazeau did not lay out a timeline for that change.
Such campaigns have been gaining traction among mainstream fast-food restaurant companies. Notably, McDonald's Corp has set a 2017 deadline for its switch to chicken raised without antibiotics that are important to human medicine. Elsewhere, the Subway sandwich chain has committed to transition away from all meats raised on antibiotics.
California Governor Jerry Brown last year signed a bill that set the country's strictest government standards for the use of antibiotics in livestock production. The bill goes into effect Jan. 1, 2018, and will restrict the regular use of antibiotics for disease prevention and ban antibiotic use to fatten animals. (Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles, editing by G Crosse and Andrew Hay)