By Caving Again, Subway's Antibiotic Phaseout Good and Bad

By Nicholas Staropoli — Oct 26, 2015
Subway announced recently that it will begin a long initiative to phase out meat from animals fed antibiotics as a growth enhancer. It's a win for public health, but the reality is that basically anyone, anywhere can get Subway to do just about anything at this point if one screams loud enough.

Subway, the sandwich chain, announced recently that it will no longer use meat from farms that use antibiotics as a growth enhancer. The plan, however, will take some time to implement, estimating its chicken will be antibiotic free by March 2016.

Antibiotic-grown turkey will take two to three years to phase out. Beef and pork may not be phased out for another decade.

The announcement preempts several critics, such as the NRDC and Vani Hari (the self-described "Food Babe'), which were preparing a petition to demand the food chain make these changes.

From a science standpoint, Subway deserves a hat tip. There is sufficient evidence that using these drugs as growth enhancers for livestock contribute to the overall problem of antibiotic resistance.

However, it has become abundantly clear to us here at the American Council that anyone can persuade Subway to do basically anything he or she wants. All that's needed is a petition and a Facebook group.

Sure, this time food chain officials caved to pressure on a legitimate issue, which was backed by sound scientific concerns. But that hasn't always been the case. Last year, the company bowed to pressure from Ms. Hari to remove azodicarbonamide from its bread, largely on the grounds, believe it not, that she couldn't pronounce the chemical.

I can only imagine what absurd demand this fast food enterprise will kowtow to next. Maybe Subway will remove all its tomatoes and lettuce because they contain formaldehyde. How about banning onions? They contain the hard-to-pronounce chemicals such as S-propylmercapto-cysteine1? What about its vegan patties containing dihydrogen monoxide, a chemical that kills 370,000 people worldwide each year?

Hyperbole aside, companies do need to make sure their products are safe, but those safety concerns must be grounded in legitimate science. The company's decision to move away from antibiotic-raised livestock is a no doubt a good one, and the hope is that other restaurants will follow suit. But when companies needlessly ban completely safe chemicals or farming practices -- while smartly taking action to correct dangerous ones -- they equate the dangerous with the safe in the eye of the public, stirring up more confusion over health matters.

Unfortunately, there's been an alarming trend by food companies recently which act subserviently to propaganda groups. Subway is one, Chipotle is another. Pepsi, too. These companies think they will help their bottom lines by listening to these groups (instead of ours, which promotes sound science). But take a look at where Chipotle has been, hurting since instituting its ban on GMOs.

It's reasonably certain for us to say that those who make up these propaganda groups, for which these companies are bending-over-backwards to please, don't actually eat their food or buy their products. Customers who both eat at Subway, and also follow Food Babe dogma, don't exist. So instead of reacting to every single one of her Facebook posts, Subway officials should instead be reacting only to sound science.

  1. S-propylmercapto-cysteine is an antioxidant