by Anne Burkholder
Tuesday, Subway restaurants made the announcement that beginning in March 2016 it will serve chicken raised without antibiotics. Further, the company will source turkey, pork and beef in the same manner within a 10 year period. A spokesman for Subway stated that company’s goal is “eliminating antibiotics from all of its meat supplies within 10 years”.
There are two different things going on in the above statement that are being blended into a mass of dramatic confusion. I want to take a moment to clarify so that everyone can be educated food purchasers.
- Eliminating harmful levels of antibiotics from meat has already been accomplished. It is illegal in the United States to market food animals that carry unsafe antibiotic residues. This is a non-negotiable fact of food production. The meat that you purchase from Subway today is safe. That is the law. Subway’s announcement makes no change to that fact.
- Sourcing meat from animals that have never been treated with an antibiotic affects how the farmer raises the animal. It does not change the meat, it changes the way that the animal is raised.
As a cattle farmer, it is my job to raise my animals humanely in order to produce safe and healthy beef. It is unreasonable for my customers to demand the impossible. I cannot raise 100% of my animals over a lifespan of almost two years without ever using an antibiotic. Things happen – Animals can get sick. It is my job to help them when they do.
I want healthy animals that make healthy beef because that creates responsible and sustainable food production. It is the right thing to do to treat a sick animal that needs special care. I should be able to expect my customers to understand that the meat product that comes from that small percentage of animals is still fit for human consumption.
In the twelve month period of August 1, 2014 to July 31, 2015, I treated 7.8% of the cattle on my farm with an antibiotic for an individually diagnosed illness. These animals were treated under the direction of my veterinarian according to Beef Quality Assurance practices. Additionally, in compliance with federal law, those animals were held on the farm until the required withdrawal time passed to ensure that no antibiotics were present in their meat when they went to slaughter.