Another fast-food chain will phase antibiotics out of its meat supply chain. This time, the announcement came from Subway.
Not too long ago, Subway announced it would transition its chicken supply chain to one that does not use antibiotics important to human health. But now the fast-food chain is transitioning its entire U.S. meat supply chain to make it antibiotic-free by 2025.
Subway will phase out the use of antibiotics in stages. First, will come chicken. By 2016, all meat served in American Subway restaurants will be antibiotic-free. Next, will come turkey. In 2016, the chain will introduce antibiotic-free turkey, but it will take up to three years to completely transition, the company said. Pork and beef will be the last and will not be fully antibiotic-free until 2025.
Why is it taking so long? Dennis Clabby, executive vice president of Subway’s Independent Purchasing Cooperative (IPC), said in a statement that “a change like this will take some time, particularly since the supply of beef raised without antibiotics in the U.S. is extremely limited and cattle take significantly longer to raise.” In other words, it can’t happen overnight.
That it is happening at all is testament to the fact that bad press can sometimes spur a company to do the right thing. A report by a coalition of environmental and food advocacy groups, released last month, rated different fast-food chains. Subway received a failing grade (31 percent). The report noted that Subway didn’t even respond to a survey sent to the chain. The company also didn’t respond to attempts to clarify its position.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups that participated in the report, has been pressuring Subway to take action on antibiotics. NRDC launched a campaign in August when it commissioned a full-size billboard near Subway’s corporate offices “challenging antibiotic use in its supply chain,” an NRDC blog post said.
Clearly, the billboard got to Subway. The NRDC blog post notes that, a few days after the billboard launched, the company updated the antibiotic use policy on its website. Then came the announcement about phasing out antibiotics from its chicken supply chain, and, most recently, phasing them out from its entire meat chain.
NRDC is not the only organization that targeted Subway with a campaign, as other groups also did, including Friends of the Earth. The message to the company was quite clear: Take action about antibiotics. Subway evidently received the message and decided to take action.
Coincidently, Lena Brook from NRDC was ready to deliver a petition with almost 300,000 signatures to Subway’s leadership at its Connecticut headquarters. On her way out the door, she saw the news about Subway’s announcement, she wrote on NRDC’s Switchboard blog. Brook pointed out that Subway’s commitment to completely phasing out antibiotics from its supply chain puts it “on track to join an elite group of food industry giants.”
Indeed, Subway has joined a group of fast-food chains that have committed to phasing out antibiotics, including Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s. That’s a long way to go in such a short time. The coalition that scored fast-food chains on antibiotics intends for its reports to be annual. Perhaps next year Subway will receive a much higher grade given its recent announcement.
And that matters because antibiotic resistance is real. Experts, including the World Health Organization, cite the routine use of antibiotics among livestock as contributing to antibiotic resistance. Fast-food chains can lead the way in phasing out antibiotic use among livestock, which will reduce antibiotic resistance. It’s a proverbial win-win situation.
Image credit: Flickr/Dwight Burdette