Flock of Turkeys | via MyOtherMoreExcitingSelf.wordpress.com

Subway clarified its antibiotics in meat policy on Friday, in case you haven’t heard. I’m glad for that because Subway is an important market for poultry – and certainly for turkey deli meat specifically.

According to Feedstuffs magazine, here is the clarification:

On its website, the company said the goal is to reduce and eliminate the use of antibiotics in the food it serves, but added that it recognizes 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,” the website stated.

As such, SUBWAY said it is asking its suppliers to do the following:

  • Adopt, implement and comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (“FDA’s”) guidance for industry 209 and 213, which requires that medically important antibiotics not be used for growth promotion. Visit the FDA site to learn more.
  • Assure that all antibiotics use is overseen, pre-approved and authorized by a licensed veterinarian before they are administered to any animal.
  • Keep accurate and complete records to track use of all antibiotics.
  • Adhere at all times to all legal requirements governing antibiotic withdrawal times. This assures that antibiotics have been eliminated from the animals’ systems at the time of slaughter.
  • Actively encourage, support and participate in research efforts focused on improving animal health while reducing antibiotics use.

This is definitely a more reasonable approach.

From a communications standpoint, I’d say the marketing department failed miserably with the initial announcement – not only for deleting comments on Subway’s Facebook page, but also generally for not including this clarification with the initial announcement in the first place. I think it would’ve made the announcement a bit more palatable.

I also want to bring up a few additional points on this whole situation, in the hopes of giving a little more clarity to antibiotic use in poultry production.

Turkey and chicken farmers are already doing all of the above bullet points mentioned by Subway. This includes studying ways bird health can be improved without the use of antibiotics. I’ve written this before – no one blatantly “pumps” their birds full of antibiotics just for the heck of it. Antibiotics are a tool for many farmers to help combat sickness in their birds, yes, but there are many other ways farmers focus on bird health first – including nutrition, proper housing, and early detection of any health issues.

If a flock is raised as antibiotic-free but a bird (or birds) get sick, there are options for care. Birds raised in an antibiotic-free environment still do upon occasion get sick and may require antibiotics. If that’s the case, the bird(s) are removed from the antibiotic-free flock, transitioned to a conventional production, given the care they need, and ultimately sold as conventional meat. In my experience, it is not true that sick birds in an antibiotic-free flock do not get treated at all if they are sick.

All poultry meat is antibiotic free in grocery stores and restaurants. I don’t think I can re-state this enough. Even with the use of antibiotics, farmers follow strict withdrawal procedures to ensure that there are no antibiotic residues in birds that go to market.

Be wary about marketing claims. Companies will always want an edge over their competition, and marketing claims, unfortunately, may vary and may not always be entirely clear. If you have any questions about your food, how it’s raised/grown, and what different labels mean, I encourage you to ask farmers, specific poultry companies, and agriculture organizations who can help you understand. Groups like Ask The Farmers (of which I’m a contributor) and AgChat Foundation are committed to sharing factual information directly from farmers about the wide range of production methods farmers employ for all of our food choices. Organizations like the one I work for – Minnesota Turkey Growers Association – are also focused on this goal and have a plethora of information and videos on their websites to help you better understand what farmers do on a daily basis. Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask questions!

On a personal level, I dislike the “fear over facts” mentality that seems to be gripping marketing departments and social media  these days – and I especially abhor this disconcerting trend of animal activist groups – those whose missions are ultimately to eliminate the livestock industry in the U.S. completely – to dictate (via pressure on restaurants and retail companies) what practices and production methods farmers must use on their farms. These groups essentially want to take away the personal choice for many consumers to eat meat and I don’t think that’s right.

The bottom line for is this: we are ALL consumers, farmers included, and we all eat food and want to make the choices that are right for our own families. I encourage you to know the reasons behind your choices and be open to listening and learning about our food production system. I will work to dispel myths about poultry farming, and I hope you will stick around to ask questions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *