The World's Largest Fast-Food Chain Is Going Antibiotic-Free—and Not Just for Chicken

Subway announced that it will cut medically important drugs out of all of its meat.
Footlong Roast Beef sandwich from Subway. (Photo: Flickr)
Oct 20, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

When a trend spreads like wildfire across fast-food menus, it usually centers on a new ingredient—say, chipotle chiles or Asiago cheese. Not in 2015, however. Instead of a hot new flavor, the industry is chasing a hot new trend in poultry farming: chickens raised without antibiotics.

After a number of restaurants, such as Chick-fil-A, cut drugs used in human medicine out of their poultry supply in recent years, the industry leader, McDonald’s, announced in March that it would follow suit. Now Subway, which has the most locations of any fast-food chain, is upping the stakes: The company announced on Tuesday that it will phase out antibiotics from not only chicken but all of its meats by 2025. The industry standard practice of feeding livestock consistent low doses of antibiotics contributes to the development of drug-resistant bacteria—bacteria that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, kills more than 23,000 people every year.

“Today’s consumer is ever more mindful of what they are eating, and we’ve been making changes to address what they are looking for," Subway said in a statement.

The announcement comes on the heels of a campaign launched in August by the Natural Resources Defense Council calling on Subway to address concerns of antibiotics in its meat.

“Subway has been suspiciously silent on its antibiotic policies at a time when a flood of other industry leaders are stepping up to address the health threat of antibiotic abuse in meat production,” NRDC food policy advocate Lena Brook said in a statement at the time.

Following the news on Tuesday, Brook was more upbeat. “This is a victory for public health—and sandwich lovers everywhere,” she said in a statement. “This commitment from the world’s largest fast food chain is a giant step forward in the ongoing effort to get meat raised with routine antibiotics off more plates and menus.”

Subway will begin the overhaul of its meat supply chain with chicken, which it says will be antibiotic-free by March 2016. Turkey will follow in 2019, and beef and pork will go antibiotic-free by 2025.