A soggy statement by Subway

The “eat fresh” champion served a soggy statement about their antibiotics policy this week. A Subway spokeswomen said, “We have been working toward the elimination of antibiotics... We cannot provide a date when all the work will get done as the demand is somewhat higher than supply right now.” That is not a commitment.

Food & farming

The “eat fresh” champion served a soggy statement about their antibiotics policy this week. A Subway spokeswomen said, “We have been working toward the elimination of antibiotics… We cannot provide a date when all the work will get done as the demand is somewhat higher than supply right now.” That is not a commitment.

“We’re working on it” sounds nice, sure; indeed, it’s good to hear. But, anything short of insisting that their producers produce antibiotic-free meat by a date certain is of little, if any, value. Subway is the single-largest chain restaurant in the nation, and serves approximately 7.5 million pounds of meat every week. If they choose to make a change, they force the market to change as well.

That’s basic economics: demands drives supply. To lose a buyer like Subway would be a far bigger detriment to business than a well-planned phasing-out of antibiotics over some length of time. I find it hard to believe that Subway doesn’t know this.

What Subway almost certainly knows is that their words buy them time. “We’re working on it” implies the process is out of their control; that they are doing all they can. But nice words are not what the millions of Americans catching antibiotic-resistant infections need. What they, what we all, need is action.

Together with a coalition of public health, consumer, environmental, and animal welfare organizations, we laid out the actions Subway must take to help save antibiotics in a letter we sent to their leadership on July 23rd, 2015. We need a clear commitment to phase out the routine use of antibiotics important in the treatment of human diseases, and a concrete timeline for doing so across their meat and poultry producers.

By taking these steps, Subway can make a real impact on the issue of antibiotic resistance. McDonald’s proved this earlier this year when the chain followed through on a ten-year-old promise to serve meat raised without antibiotics. Mere weeks later, Tyson, the second-largest chicken producer in the nation, followed suit. In short, they changed the market.

Subway has this much power, and we are calling on them to use it. They can help save antibiotics from overuse and preserve their effectiveness for generations to come. But not with words alone.

“We have been working toward the elimination of antibiotics,” does tell us Subway is listening, and that’s something. It is the reason why we, and over 100,000 other Americans, won’t stop calling for real action from Subway to help save antibiotics.

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Emily Scarr

State Director, Maryland PIRG

Emily directs strategy, organizational development, research, communications and legislative advocacy for Maryland PIRG. Emily has helped win small donor public financing in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Howard County, Montgomery County, and Prince George's County. She has played a key role in establishing new state laws to to protect public health by restricting the use of antibiotics on Maryland farms, require testing for lead in school drinking water and restrict the use of toxic flame retardant and PFAS chemicals. Emily also serves on the Executive Committees of the Maryland Fair Elections Coalition and the Maryland Campaign to Keep Antibiotics Working. Emily lives in Baltimore City with her husband, kids, and dog.

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