Subway on track to ditch antibiotics

By Matthew Wellington
Antibiotics Program Director

Subway recently confirmed that it will ring in the New Year serving chicken raised without antibiotics. Turkey, pork, and beef will follow. Kudos to the “eat fresh” brand for making this happen and for hitting their first timeline.

This is good news for public health and for sandwich lovers everywhere.

I’ve heard chatter at times that eliminating antibiotics is a marketing gimmick for restaurants. Au contraire. Whether it’s the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the medical and public health communities keep warning us that unless we take action to reduce unnecessary antibiotics use, we could be living in a world where antibiotics no longer work. Common infections once again will become life-threatening illnesses and medical advances like cancer treatment and routine surgical procedures will be much more dangerous, if not impossible.

Approximately 70% of antibiotics important to human medicine that are sold in the U.S. are for use on livestock and poultry. Many farming operations administer the drugs on a routine basis to otherwise healthy animals to make them grow faster or to prevent disease often brought on by crowded, unsanitary conditions. Scientific American recently reported on the significant research showing that raising livestock and poultry with the routine use of life-saving antibiotics fuels the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

To be clear, if an animal is sick it should be treated with antibiotics, but the drugs should not be used on a routine basis on otherwise healthy animals to compensate for poor conditions or to make them grow a bit faster.

Despite the urgent calls from the medical community, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has done little. And the meat industry and drug companies overall continue to lobby against efforts to curb antibiotic use.

Subway, however, took the lead. The sandwich giant not only saw opportunities in consumer demand for meat raised without routine antibiotics, they understood that the chain was in a position to use its sizeable purchasing power to make a real change on this critical issue. By setting a concrete timeline for phasing out meat raised on routine antibiotics from its supply chain and meeting its first benchmark, Subway is helping to build a robust market for meat raised without misusing antibiotics.

I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel with Chris Carroll (pictured with me below), Subway’s Chief Advertising Officer, recently to talk about how to combat antibiotic resistance. This recent announcement shows that Subway not only talks the talk, but walks the walk as well.


I urge other major restaurants like KFC, Bojangles, and Olive Garden to join industry leaders by ditching meat raised on routine antibiotics. Similarly, I urge McDonald’s, which serves chicken raised without medically important antibiotics, to join Subway in making a commitment for pork and beef as well.

Consumers shouldn’t have to choose between a slightly cheaper burger and potentially undermining our modern medical system. We simply can’t afford to lose antibiotics.




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