What a difference a day (or three) makes.
Friday, Subway updated their policy on antibiotics used in food animals and animal welfare in greater detail, and let me say, their second try makes a whole lot more sense.
The company did a little bit of backpedaling, saying:
“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…
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. Our policy is that antibiotics can be used to treat, control and prevent disease, but not for growth promotion of farm animals.”
I appreciate their review and subsequent clarification, but it’s a pretty stark contrast to their original statement saying they would only source meat from animals that have never been treated with antibiotics. If anything, it shows how little the company understands about how farmers use antibiotics and why.
It’s frustrating, but not surprising. And they certainly aren’t the only ones who may not understand the ins and outs of antibiotic use in food animals. Essentially, farmers use antibiotics in three ways:
- To treat or control disease outbreaks.
- To prevent common diseases.
- To increase feed efficiency, or as it is more commonly understood, to promote growth.
Subway’s initial statement basically boiled down to one rule: farmers can’t use antibiotics, ever. Their revised guidelines say that farmers can use antibiotics to treat and prevent disease, but not to promote growth.
And you know what? That’s understandable. After all, antibiotics used to promote growth have actually seen a steady decline in recent years as farmers have refined herd health practices, making animals healthier as a result and growth-promoting antibiotics less and less necessary.
Still, food companies and restaurant chains aren’t the only ones issuing this directive to farmers; the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued it’s own directives saying the same thing, and farmers are doing their best to comply.
Effective in December 2016, all antibiotics used to promote growth will be brought under veterinary supervision so that they are used only when necessary for assuring animal health. In other words, the only way farmers will be able to include antibiotics in animals’ feed or water is to treat or prevent illness, with a written prescription from the veterinarian with which they work. All this according to the FDA’s Guidance for Industry #213 and #209.
In 2013, the FDA asked pharmaceutical manufacturers to voluntarily surrender their growth promotion labels and put all other therapeutic uses of antibiotics under the direct supervision of veterinarians, and that’s just what they did. Companies voluntarily gave up their growth promotion claims for all antibiotics that are in classes used in human medicine.
It’s important to note that studies have shown agricultural antibiotic use having minimal effect on public health. Despite that, farmers are consumers, too, and understand the need to protect medically important drugs for human use. That’s why drug manufacturers and farmers have willingly made changes to the way they market and use antibiotics.
And, despite the changes in the way antibiotics are used, one thing has always, and will always remain the same:
There are no antibiotics in your meat.
There weren’t antibiotics in your meat prior to the FDA’s directive, and there won’t be any antibiotics after the final rule is implemented. That’s because farmers follow strict veterinary and antibiotic withdrawal times.
Withdrawals are the time an animal is given the drug last to the time an animal is sent to market. It’s illegal to send an animal to market with antibiotics still in its system. In fact, the Food Safety and Inspection Service tests for antibiotics in the meat supply by randomly testing a certain percentage of meat in every packing plant in the U.S. Additionally, any animals who appear to be a higher risk for antibiotic residue are closely monitored. Finally, every animal that is sent to a processing facility is inspected by a veterinary before it’s harvested. Every. Single. One.
For more info on Subway’s updated policy, check out: