Subway announced on Tuesday, it plans to begin serving meat that has never received antibiotics – poultry in 2016, pork and beef six years after that is complete. The sandwich chain makes the move to compete with its rivals and gives in to pressure from activist groups, following recent events that have dampened their PR efforts to retain an image of Fresh food.
As Pork Network stated, “While the [NRDC] spokesperson said Subway should be “commended for answering its customers’ calls,” the pressure did not come from customers. The pressure came from activist groups, and Subway – like many others – complied to avoid the potential for negative publicity that is easily created by these groups.”
For the record, I’ve yet to see Subway give much notice that it has been working with livestock farmers and ranchers leading up to this decision. It’s not an earth-shattering announcement, following similar announcements from several other restaurant chains in recent years. However, a few items seem different.
Subway emphasized sourcing meat that has never received antibiotics. As posted on the Subway Facebook page, “We’re always working to make our products even better. That’s why we’re transitioning to serve only meats that have never received antibiotics starting in 2016.” This is dangerous.
Antibiotics are important tools to treat disease. Most activist complaints focus on the use of antibiotics in feedlots, but most fail to acknowledge their importance in treating illnesses. This includes treating cattle in pasture and range situations, where activists claim they want livestock to be raised. Removing this tool from livestock farming and ranching families, with the guidance of veterinarians, is dangerous to our ability to continue raising healthy animals.
Great. If Subway wants to give into activist pressures, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen companies listen to vocal minorities. But it’s another thing when the company makes the announcement and follows up by deleting comments from users who disagree with their announcement. I shared the comment below and it only took six minutes before it was deleted. What gives, Subway?
For the record, I’m not concerned about antibiotics being in our meat, and neither should you.
I’ve written about antibiotics use in livestock on several occasions, sharing my experience on family farms and ranches and large cattle feedlots in several locations around the country. Have I experienced occasions when antibiotics may have been used in place of better management practices at the moment? Yes, that has happened. IS the use of antibiotics in feedlots and CAFOs (affectionately referred to as ‘factory farms’ by activists) as bad as the images painted by activists, and at times popular media? Certainly not according to my experiences.
In fact, more often than not, those larger operations, along with farmers and ranchers are great stewards of their resources, using them when needed the most from a diverse tool box. When used, most of these antibiotics must be purchased through a veterinarian who has oversight of the livestock farm’s management. Those rules are already being reinforced to stricter standards next year by the FDA. I’ve discussed in detail the changes with Veterinary Feed Directives with a veterinarian.
Even when livestock are given antibiotics, that doesn’t mean there will be residues in our meat. Programs such as Beef Quality Assurance teach farmers and ranchers proper use of antibiotics and how to administer them for safe food products from those animals. A friend, who happens to be an accomplished meat scientist, has explained this well and describes that meat is safe, even from livestock who have received antibiotics to treat illnesses.
There has been much hype around the use of antibiotics and development of antibiotics resistance in recent years. Livestock systems have become the scape goat. Even CDC Director Thomas Frieden agrees that human antibiotics-use is very big piece of this puzzle.
Individual farmers and ranchers have to do a better job of being a part of the conversations with these restaurant chains and not let activists control the message. Subway can let the market dictate its menu items and food sourcing procedures, but there’s absolutely no need to remove reasonable comments from their social media channels. If the company is going to engage online, it must allow others to join the conversation.
Here are additional comments that were promptly removed from the Subway Facebook page. If you have captured a screen shot of a reasonable comment that was hidden/deleted from their page, send those to me.
- Subway Press Release on Antibiotics Use Policy
- Dairy Farmer Shares Her Use of Antibiotics
- Minnesotan Asks Subway to Talk to Farmers