When we talk about antibiotic resistance, it is often with a dire tone, and with good reason. As the problem grows, we stand to lose some of the touchstones of modern medicine; surgeries, cancer treatments, and even the assurance that scrapes and blisters are no big deal. But there is good news emerging from the gloom.
Thanks to the efforts of citizens and advocacy groups like U.S. PIRG, the problem of antibiotics overuse in meat production is gaining recognition. More and more people understand that raising livestock and poultry with the routine use of antibiotics endangers public health by making antibiotics less effective. Consumers are calling on their favorite restaurants to commit to meat raised without antibiotics. As a result, many are.
Most recently, Noodles & Co. announced this week that by 2017, all of its meat and poultry would be raised without antibiotics. Notably, the chain had already served pork and piloted chicken raised without antibiotics, but this expansion into meatballs, bacon, beef, and all chicken sends a powerful message: Raising livestock and poultry without routine antibiotics is both smart and possible.
It’s a basic economic argument: as demand increases, so too will supply. In this case, we’re seeing the textbook scenario come alive. As a result of this changing market, some of the biggest abusers of antibiotics in the meat industry are under pressure to change their ways. Shortly after McDonald’s announced that it would phase out medically important antibiotics from its chicken supply, Tyson Foods,one of the largest poultry producers in the country, agreed to halt the routine use of antibiotics. A clear demonstration of cause and effect in the marketplace.
Not all of the players in the fast food market are convinced. In a statement released in August, Subway claimed that it was working on switching to meat raised without antibiotics but that a lack of supply was inhibiting their ability to make a firm commitment and set a timeline. However, Noodles & Co. took initiative with its commitment to make sure the supply chain met demand and indeed, Tyson Foods proved McDonald’s power to change the market to suit its needs when it set its own plan to phase out medically important antibiotics from its chicken to hold onto its biggest customer.
By setting a concrete timeline, Subway would lay the groundwork for their meat producers to undergo the changes that would make raising their livestock and poultry without routine antibiotics possible. McDonald’s set a two year timeline to shift on chicken, and Noodles and Co. aimed for roughly two years for all of its meat. Subway needs to take initiative and set a real timeline for its suppliers to phase out antibiotics. Otherwise, when – if -- the industry decides to stop routinely giving antibiotics to animals that aren’t sick, it will be too late.
The fact is, there is no time to waste in the fight to save antibiotics. Too many drugs have already lost effectiveness against common infections, and the problem is only going to get worse. As antibiotics are used, resistance develops. There is no way around that. But we can end the practices that spur this process. But the meat industry won’t do it on its own. That’s why, without a firm policy with deadlines to shift, Subway is playing a losing game for public health. Instead, Subway must set the standard and lead their suppliers away from antibiotics misuse, the way Chipotle, McDonald’s, and now Noodles & Co., have, to avert a very real public health threat.
Sign our petition to Subway asking for a firm commitment and timeline to phase out antibiotics from its meat supply.