Sandwich chain Subway will start serving antibiotic-free chicken and turkey at its U.S. restaurants next year, and within the next nine years will stop selling any meat from animals given antibiotics, according to the company.
Subway competitors such as Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. and McDonald’s Corp. have announced similar supply-chain shifts, adding pressure on U.S. livestock producers to cut human antibiotics in their beef and hog units as well as poultry production.
Subway says customers will 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 will become available.
By 2018 it expects to shift all of its chicken and turkey supplies over to antibiotic-free meats. In addition, the company said that within six years after that it will begin selling only pork and beef raised without any antibiotics.
“A change like this will take some time, particularly since the supply of beef raised without antibiotics in the U.S. is extremely limited and cattle take significantly longer to raise,” says Dennis Clabby, executive vice president of Subway’s independent purchasing cooperative. “But, we are working diligently with our suppliers to make it happen.”
Subway’s is one of the most aggressive moves by the food sector to reduce the use of antibiotics, particularly those deemed crucial to human health by the medical community, in meat production.
Public health experts and federal regulators have long been concerned that routine feeding of antibiotics to animals could spur creation of antibiotic-resistant superbugs in humans, creating a health hazard.
But finding enough protein raised in the U.S. without such drugs has proved to be a challenge for food companies.
McDonald’s Corp. has said it plans to source only chicken raised without antibiotics important to human medicine by 2017 for its U.S. restaurants. Dunkin’ Donuts will prohibit suppliers from using medically important antibiotics or antimicrobials in healthy animals, but has not set a timeline.