Following significant pressure from consumers nationwide, Subway just served up a major victory for public health by announcing that its restaurants will no longer sell meat raised with antibiotics. This comes on the heels of similar commitments by McDonald’s, Chipotle, Chick-Fil-A and others.
So, why should this matter to you?
It matters because the overuse of antibiotics in Big Ag makes each and every one of us less safe. Factory farms that supply companies like McDonalds and Subway give their livestock antibiotics on a routine basis. In fact, 70 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. go to livestock — most of the time these animals aren’t even sick — to make them gain weight and to prevent disease caused by unhealthy and unsanitary conditions on factory farms.
The side effect: Overusing antibiotics in this setting gives antibiotic bacteria an opportunity to grow and flourish. As a result, that medicine might not work the next time you or I get ill, leaving us vulnerable to serious and untreatable infection.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recently released detailed studies on bacterial resistance. The CDC report found that at least 2 million Americans are sickened by drug-resistant bacteria each year and 23,000 of these cases result in death. Eighty-five percent of doctors who were included in a recent poll released by U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Consumer Reports said that in the last year, one or more of their patients had a presumed or confirmed case of drug-resistant infection.
Imagine if you or your child suffered from an infection and you were left with no means to cure it. This is happening to people all over the country. Common examples of these infections are diseases as simple as strep throat, and even more serious illnesses such as pneumonia or MRSA.
Dee Dee Wallace, a Wisconsinite from Nashota, tells her story of contracting antibiotic resistant illness as a terrifying journey that consisted mostly of “I don’t knows.” You’re fine one day and then fighting for your life the next, she says. She almost lost her leg and her life to this infection, but thankfully came out a survivor.
We have to act now to save our antibiotics — and that’s why it’s so great to see Subway, the largest restaurant chain in the world, respond to the calls from millions of customers urging them to join this fight. WISPIRG and our national coalition partners gathered over 270,000 petition signatures and got 20,000 health care professionals to urge Subway to commit to meat raised without antibiotics. They did the right thing, both for their bottom line and for public health.
So thank you, Subway, for becoming a leader in this push. But with this big of an issue on our hands, we can’t stop here; others in the food industry will have to follow in Subway’s footsteps. It starts with you, the consumer. Take a stand against the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms. Your voice matters: This latest victory shows that companies and farmers are listening.
Claire Rater is a campaign coordinator for WISPIRG, the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group.
Editor's note: This piece column been revised for greater clarity.
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