Bowman: Farmers, Subway is not your BFF

By Angela Bowman, Associate Editor, PORK Network

Last October, Subway made waves after announcing plans to eliminate antibiotics use in its U.S. meat supplies. Farmers and ranchers took up their proverbial pitchforks and torches to fight back against the move.

The efforts paid off – two days later, Subway (quietly) revised its sustainable sourcing policy to include that antibiotics are indeed “critical tools for keeping animals healthy and that they should be used responsibly to preserve their effectiveness in veterinary and human medicine.”

Cue the celebration: the industry had triumphed! Many considered it a win…

…but was it?

As one of our readers recently pointed it, Subway’s stance is still the same.

The company may have made a slight, quiet admission that antibiotics do play a role in caring for livestock, but that doesn’t change one very key fact – Subway is still planning to eliminate antibiotics  use from its supply chain, and that change may be seen as soon as this year.

PORK Network reached out to Subway for clarification. Here’s what we were told:

“SUBWAY will be serving meats raised without antibiotics by the year 2025. Until then, the brand’s policy has been that antibiotics can be used to treat, control and prevent disease, but not for growth promotion of farm animals. That policy will remain in place until the transition is complete.”

In just nine years, Subway will join the likes of Chipotle and Panera to further fuel the antibiotic fear factory.

So Subway gets to be hailed a hero, while its suppliers face the daunting task of find acceptable alternatives. As Anne Burkholder, better known as the Feedyard Foodie, pointed out in a commentary here, Subway would rather producers leave sick animals to suffer until they die or euthanize an animal that may have otherwise survived with responsible antibiotic treatment.

When we pushed Subway for more information, the spokeswoman said, “This is just the latest step in the SUBWAY® brand’s journey to make its menu even better by offering only the high-quality, affordable menu items that today’s customers are seeking.”

Did you catch that? There’s the truth – it’s not about antibiotic resistance. It’s not about animal health. It’s not even about human health. It’s all about that ultimate bottom line.

It may seem harmless, but Subway, Panera, McDonald’s or any company marketing its “antibiotic-free” products are actually doing more harm to the industry than any efforts by the Humane Society of the United States or PETA.

As Dallas Hockman, the NPPC’s vice president of industry relations, explained at the Leman Swine Conference in September, “If you have major players beginning to use terms like ‘antibiotic-free’ as a point of differentiation, it drives awareness much more so than activist groups.”

Don’t stop trying to reach Subway or its consumers. Groups like the National Pork Producers Council are working hard to elicit change through the voices of livestock producers heard by companies like Subway. There’s more to do though — Dairy Herd Management urged farmers and ranchers to get involved in bringing agriculture to classrooms to reach the future consumers or CEOs of major companies. Keep pushing your message on social media, at state fairs or even your local grocery stores.

As Minnesota pig farmer and blogger Wanda Patsche wrote in the wake of the October Subway fiasco, “Farmers are no different from Subway customers in that they want safe food. We don’t want to eat meat that is contaminated with antibiotics either. That’s why we are so very careful in using antibiotics sparingly. Most of us who raise agricultural animals eat the same meat we sell. We would never want to put our families in any type of danger. We also realize that raising food for other families is a big responsibility and we don’t take it lightly. Please allow us to use the tools we need to do it right by providing safe and healthy food for you.”

Don’t let Subway – or any company, group or entity – silence your story.


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