Last week, Subway announced it would phase out meat that comes from animals that had been given antibiotics. This “antibiotic-free” move outraged the animal agricultural industry, with many pointing out that whether it’s natural or conventional meat, all meat is antibiotic free, thanks to withdrawal times and other considerations described by Beef Quality Assurance protocols.
The producer outcry over this announcement had Subway execs thinking twice, and shortly after the sandwich chain’s move made the rounds, they switched gears and changed their statement to read:
“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. We are in the process of transitioning to chicken products made from chicken raised without antibiotics and expect this transition to be completed by the end of 2016. In addition, turkey products made from turkey raised without antibiotics will be introduced in 2016. The transition is expected to take 2-3 years. Supply of pork and beef products from animals raised without antibiotics in the U.S. is extremely limited. We expect our transition to take place by 2025. 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. (Emphasis mine.) 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.”
VIDEO worth sharing: Learn how antibiotics are used in animal agriculture
While I’m disappointed that activist-driven agendas have pushed the growing trend for retailers to transition to “antibiotic-free,” I think there is a window of opportunity for the beef industry to educate Subway and the consumers who eat there about the uses and benefits of antibiotics in livestock. When an animal gets sick, it’s our job to tend to that animal. So banning the use of antibiotics across the board would create huge animal welfare concerns. Of course, prevention is also important, but just like people, a bacteria can make an animal feel pretty darn lousy. So it just makes sense that ranchers should have antibiotics as a tool in their toolbox to address these situations as they arise.
If you ever have an opportunity to discuss antibiotic use in food animals with a consumer, I’ve rounded up three resources that can help beef up your knowledge in this area, including:
1. “Animal antibiotics” from the Animal Health Institute
2. “Following up on Subway” written by Anne Burkeholder, Feedyard Foodie blog
3. “Antibiotics in livestock and poultry production” by the North American Meat
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.
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