Pork antibiotics battle rages on

By Chloe Ryan

- Last updated on GMT

Subway's decision to ban the use of antibiotics in its meat has attracted criticism from the US meat industry
Subway's decision to ban the use of antibiotics in its meat has attracted criticism from the US meat industry

Related tags Antibiotics Meat Us Livestock

The National Pork Board and the National Pork Producers Council have placed a full page advert in The Wall Street Journal in the form of an open letter to Subway in response to the latter’s decision to ban the use of antibiotics in the meat it buys. 

The pork bodies said the advert was an effort to share American pig farmers’ collective dissatisfaction with Subway’s decision.

The world’s largest fast food chain announced last week it would start serving antibiotic-free chicken and turkey at its US restaurants next year and, within the next nine years, would stop selling any meat from animals given antibiotics.

Competitors such as Chipotle Mexican Grill and McDonald’s have announced similar supply-chain shifts, adding pressure on US livestock producers to cut human antibiotics from their beef, hogs and poultry production.

Public health experts and federal regulators have long been concerned that routine feeding of antibiotics to animals could lead to antibiotic-resistant superbugs, a health hazard for humans. Finding enough protein raised in the US without such drugs has been a challenge for food companies.

However, the letter claims antibiotics are important to the everyday practices pig farmers and veterinarians have established. “No antibiotics of any kind – Subway’s position – will leave livestock without access to animal health medicines and could result in the unnecessary suffering or death of animals,”​ the letter says.

The advertisement also reinforces pork producers’ commitment to the health and well-being of each animal. “We should all leave open the ability to use antibiotics responsibly when animals are sick or at risk of getting sick,” the letter continues. “On the best-managed ranch or farm, animals can get sick, just as people can get sick in the cleanest and best-run households. We believe that insisting on absolutely no antibiotics ignores best practices established by veterinarians, the pork industry and individual farmers who have a direct interest in the welfare of their animals.”

Subway said customers would be able to start buying chicken raised without antibiotics at its more than 27,000 fast-food restaurants starting in March. The company did not state when antibiotic-free turkey would become available.

By 2018 it expects to shift all chicken and turkey supplies to antibiotic-free meats. The company said that within six years after that, it would begin serving pork and beef only from animals raised without antibiotics.

“A change like this will take some time, particularly since the supply of beef raised without antibiotics in the US is extremely limited and cattle take significantly longer to raise,”​ said Dennis Clabby, executive vice-president of Subway’s independent purchasing cooperative. “But, we are working diligently with our suppliers to make it happen.”

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