Like it or not, Subway, the nation's largest fast food restaurant, announced the end of October that starting in early 2016 they will be joining McDonald's, Panera Bread and Chick-fil-A by serving only "antibiotic-free" chicken in their restaurants.
The changes don't stop there. Subway said later in 2016 it will begin serving antibiotic-free turkey. By 2022, their plan is to start serving antibiotic-free pork and beef and complete the transition to all antibiotic-free meat by 2025.
In a letter sent last June to Frederick De Luca, president and CEO of Subway, a coalition of consumer groups and other organizations urged the company to address the issue of antibiotic use in livestock production by using only antibiotic-free meat.
The coalition, representing leaders from 20 organizations cited a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that "the rise of bacteria resistant to commonly relied-upon antibiotics is one of our most pressing public health threats."
Each year in the U.S., 2 million people contract antibiotic-resistant infections and 23,000 die as a result, the letter stated. "The nation's health experts agree that feeding low doses of antibiotics to animals that are not sick contributes to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria," it said.
The coalition called on Subway to:
• Define a time-bound action plan to phase out the routine use of antibiotics across all Subway meat supply chains, including turkey, beef and pork.
• Act now to end the routine use of medically important antibiotics in the production of chicken sold in restaurants.
• Adopt third-party auditing of antibiotics-use policy and benchmark results showing progress in meeting the goals described above.
"Antibiotics important for human medicine should only be used to treat sick animals and, on rare occasions, for non-routine disease control, but never for growth promotion, feed efficiency, or routine disease prevention," the letter continued. "While we will continue to push FDA to adopt stronger policies on antibiotics use in animal agriculture, companies like Subway can make a vital contribution to stemming antibiotic resistance by disallowing routine antibiotics use among your suppliers."
Obviously this is a slap in the face to livestock producers. Farmers are already keeping antibiotics out of meat. All meat sold in stores, as well as restaurants, in the United States is "antibiotic-free" since it is tested for antibiotic residues. This just illustrates how far removed from the farm most people are and how little knowledge they have about how animals are raised.
What can you do? Probably not a lot. Only about 1% of the nation's population lives on farms today. It's hard for our voices to be heard. I plan to continue explaining the facts to my non-farm friends and neighbors so they understand the truth. And even though it is one of my family's favorites, I have added Subway to the growing list of restaurants where I no longer eat. You're welcome to do the same!