My bags were packed and I was ready to head east to deliver nearly 300,000 signed petitions from concerned activists to Subway leadership in their Connecticut headquarters. Only to see the news of Subway's antibiotics announcement on my way out the door.
With the knowledge that NRDC and several other public interest groups were arriving later this week to deliver these petitions, Subway announced today that it is committing to eliminate all antibiotic use in its supply chain over the next decade. Ending the overuse of antibiotics in livestock that are not sick will help curb drug-resistant superbugs responsible for the increase in difficult - or sometimes impossible - to-treat infections in people.
In August, we launched our campaign pressuring Subway to take action on the issue of antibiotic resistance. Several weeks ago, NRDC, along with our allies at US PIRG, Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth and Vani Hari, from FoodBabe.com, notified Subway leadership that these petitions would be delivered in October.
Today, Subway finally provided long awaited details about their company's new antibiotics policies, making a significant leap forward for the fast food restaurant industry as a whole.
As of March 2016, Subway says that all chicken at its restaurants will be antibiotic-free, with turkey soon to follow. Subway even made commitments to tackle their pork and beef supply chain in subsequent years, projecting a complete supply chain conversion to antibiotic-free by 2025.
With this news, Subway is on track to join an elite group of food industry giants, led by Chipotle and Panera, which have committed to shifting their entire meat and poultry supply chains away from production systems that rely on routine antibiotics use. Very few other chains - and none at this scale - have been willing to take such a strong stance when it comes to ending the routine use of antibiotics on animals that aren't sick. Let's hope this sparks the beginning of an industry trend. (This move on Subway's part is especially impressive given that just one short month ago, they were issued a resounding "F" on our first annual fast food scorecard, that ranked 25 of the nation's largest restaurant chains on their antibiotics policies.)
The fact that the largest restaurant chain in the world, with 27,000 outlets in the US alone, is prepared to take such a definitive stance on antibiotics overuse sends a strong signal to livestock producers that the market is shifting away from business-as-usual on this issue. Despite the US FDA's tepid approach on national policy, California and the marketplace are wisely leaping ahead on reigning in antibiotics overuse. Concerned eaters thank them for it.
There remains one significant gray area in Subway's antibiotics commitment: the complete absence of any plans for a third party verification program to ensure that their corporate policies are appropriately implemented. I hope that such a verification process will be rolled out as Subway begins to implements their plans in March 2016. It is also worth noting that Subway's timeline for poultry and turkey seem on target, but a ten-year wait to figure out antibiotic-free beef and pork feels quite long. Hopefully the sandwich giant can get there sooner.
Until then, we applaud Subway as the newest leader in the fight to keep antibiotics working.