subway restaurant meat antibioticsEarlier this week, Subway restaurants announced changes to their policies regarding antibiotics use in livestock, stating they would begin sourcing only protein products from livestock never receiving antibiotics. The tone in which this news was released did not sit well with livestock farmers and ranchers across the country. Frustrating the situation even more was the censoring of comments in disagreement with the announcement on Subway’s Facebook page and lack of response from the company itself.

According to Subway’s press release on Tuesday, October 20, this was their language regarding the change in policy.

“Today, the brand confirmed that it is beginning to transition to serving only protein from animals that have never received antibiotics across all of its 27,000+ U.S. restaurants in early 2016.”

At that time, statements on their website regarding Animal Welfare only mentioned the use of antibiotics once.

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Subway has since updated that page to reflect a more defined statement regarding their policies on antibiotics use in livestock from their supply chain.

Subway Statements on Animal Welfare (excerpt as of October 23)

We are committed to providing our customers with safe, affordable, and sustainable food. We believe that safe food comes from healthy animals that are well cared for. We support the highest standards of animal welfare practices available as well as the advancements that come from continued scientific research. We fully support our suppliers’ commitment to animal well-being and their practice of the best animal welfare programs based on scientific research and the recommendations of animal welfare experts in the industry.

We support the Five Freedoms principle proposed by the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes…

Our goal is to reduce and eliminate the use of antibiotics in the food we serve. Elimination of antibiotics use in our supply chain will take time, but we are working diligently with our suppliers to find quality solutions that also ensure our high quality and food safety standards are upheld and not compromised in any way. Our plan is to eliminate the use of antibiotics in phases with the initial focus on the poultry products that we serve in the U.S…

That said, we recognize that antibiotics are critical tools for keeping animals healthy and that they should be used responsibly to preserve their effectiveness in veterinary and human medicine. Our policy is that antibiotics can be used to treat, control and prevent disease, but not for growth promotion of farm animals. Accordingly, we are asking our suppliers to do the following:

  • Adopt, implement and comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (“FDA’s”) guidance for industry 209 and 213, which requires that medically important antibiotics not be used for growth promotion. Visit the FDA site to learn more.
  • Assure that all antibiotics use is overseen, pre-approved and authorized by a licensed veterinarian before they are administered to any animal.
  • Keep accurate and complete records to track use of all antibiotics.
  • Adhere at all times to all legal requirements governing antibiotic withdrawal times. This assures that antibiotics have been eliminated from the animals’ systems at the time of slaughter.
  • Actively encourage, support and participate in research efforts focused on improving animal health while reducing antibiotics use.

References for use of Antibiotics in Livestock

For reference, this is a much better explanation of their policy and the industry should appreciate the clarification. The livestock industry has been working on improving its judicious use of antibiotics in animals over the past few years. One major way is through the FDA Guidances 209 and 213, which removed the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in livestock by drug makers, which makes it illegal to use the products for such purposes.

Changes will be coming again at the end of 2016 with the implementation of Veterinary Feed Directives, which will require greater veterinary oversight and better veterinary-producer communication when it comes to the use of feed-grade antibiotics in livestock. Feedstuffs and Elanco have collaborated to produce a great informational website for those wanting to learn more about changes coming with VFDs.

It is encouraging to see Subway mention the importance of withdrawal periods when using antibiotics in livestock. “Withdrawal periods reflect the amount of time necessary for an animal to metabolize an administered product and the amount of time necessary for the product concentration level in the tissues to decrease to a safe, acceptable level. Every federally approved drug or animal health product has a withdrawal period…” (Extension)

This is an important statement in that, by law, the meat in their restaurants today should be antibiotic-free, just as their meat should be beginning in 2016. Allowing livestock farmers and ranchers to treat animals when they are sick is an important tool in raising healthy animals for a safe food supply.

What gives in Subway’s failure to respond to industry?

“That said, we recognize that antibiotics are critical tools for keeping animals healthy and that they should be used responsibly…”

This statement is now included in Subway’s policy on Animal Welfare and antibiotic use. Why couldn’t this and other statements in the policy have been used in response to livestock producers responding on the company’s social media properties? Why was the company hiding/removing comments in opposition to their announcement, yet responding to nearly every comment in support of the news? Surely, these policies were written prior to the announcement being made and made available to PR teams involved in social outreach.