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Subway’s New Sandwich is Helping Save Antibiotics

By Anya Vanecek
Public Health Digital Campaigner

Last year consumers nationwide called on Subway to serve meat raised without antibiotics, and they just delivered.

Here at U.S. PIRG, we didn’t bother to contain our excitement. Instead, we ran out and ordered some sandwiches. They did not disappoint. As it turns out, protecting public health tastes great!

Beyond the pleasing combination of chicken raised without antibiotics, veggies, and zesty honey mustard, this sandwich is one you can feel good about buying. In fact, it’s the first step of Subway’s important commitment to help stop the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms.

Last October Subway committed to transition away from all meat raised on antibiotics, starting first with chicken. When describing what led to this new antibiotics commitment Dennis Clabby, executive vice president of Subway’s meat purchasing operations, said “today’s consumer is ever more mindful of what they are eating, and we’ve been making changes to address what they are looking for.”

Consumers are looking for meat raised without the routine use of antibiotics. And it’s not just a food fad, it’s helping to tackle one of the biggest public health threats we face.

"Right now, I think the whole world is concerned about drug-resistant bacteria and use of antibiotics on animals is a big part of it." -- Dr. Stuart Levy, director of the Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance at Tufts University

The whole world is concerned for good reason. We’ve known of the link between antibiotics use on farms and antibiotic resistance since the 1970’s, when researchers first approached the FDA about the dangers of administering routine antibiotics to livestock and poultry. The relation between superbugs and the inappropriate use of antibiotics in agriculture has only become clearer since, yet it’s still common practice in the meat industry to administer daily, low doses of drugs to livestock and poultry that aren’t sick.

You can read more about that here.

As animals receive daily, low doses of antibiotics, the bacteria that survive can spread into our communities and cause infections that can be difficult (if not impossible) to treat. These are all too common, and demonstrate that there is never a reasonable excuse for improper antibiotics use that at best, wastes life-saving medicines and at worse, contributes to the rise of truly nightmare bacteria.

So when major chain restaurants like Subway – some of the largest purchasers of meat in the country – stop buying and serving meat raised on routine antibiotics, it is a big deal. Subway plans to phase out the sale of chicken raised on routine antibiotics by the end of 2016, turkey by the end of 2017, and beef and pork to follow within eight years. As it does so, its suppliers will as well, or risk losing a major purchaser. We’re seeing producers choose the former time and again. Every time a producer like Tyson, Cargill, or Perdue commits to phase out the routine use of antibiotics on their livestock and poultry, we cut significantly into one of the main sources of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

I’ll continue to support Subway’s commitment to public health by purchasing and enjoying their new Rotisserie Chicken sandwich. As consumers continue to speak out and support restaurants working to stop the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms, more chains and producers are likely to follow suit. That momentum will trigger more of the marketplace progress that is necessary to ensure that our life-saving medicines remain effective for years to come.

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