Yesterday Subway announced their plan to serve only antibiotic-free meat. Subway announced that they will completely phase out all antibiotic meat by 2025, with antibiotic free chicken made available by March 2016 and turkey by December 2016. This is a significant victory for public health. 

The move comes after CALPIRG and other state PIRGs, and our coalition partners had announced our plans to deliver more than 300,000 petition signatures to the company headquarters on Thursday. 

Overusing antibiotics on livestock and poultry contributes to a major public health problem: antibiotic-resistant infections. The New York Times just posted a new, compelling article on this subject, Taking on the Superbugs, which highlights the need for reform in the livestock industry. Thanks in part to our efforts to educate and mobilize the public on this issue, people have become increasingly aware of this problem and hungry for meat raised without antibiotics. Today, Subway showed that it has heard its customers’ calls for action, and rose to the occasion.

Because they have more franchise locations than any other fast-food chain, we expect Subway’s decision will lead to other changes in the marketplace. When McDonalds’ announced that they would stop buying chicken raised with antibiotics last February, their supplier, soon after their chicken supplier Tyson Foods followed their lead. Subway is also sending an important message to other restaurants around the country: if the nation’s largest fast food chain can do this, anyone can.

CALPIRG launched our campaign back in June, working in coalition with other state PIRGs, Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth, Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, and Vani Hari, aka the “Food Babe.” 

Here in California, our staff have been going door to door in communities across the state to educate the public about the problem of antibiotic resistance and what Subway could do to be part of the solution. More than 20,000 CALPIRG supporters signed a petition to Subway. Hundreds of our supporters also made phone calls into Subway's company headquarters and/or sent "photo petitions" to the company on Twitter and Facebook to make sure the company was getting the message.  

As the California organizer on this campaign, I recruited 32 local farmers and 23 health professionals to sign onto our campaign, collected photo petitions from Californians to post on social media, garnered support from local student clubs and environmental groups, and spread the word at farmers markets and on the local radio. 

As Jenn Thompson, owner of Rockside Ranch in Etna, CA, told me, “Healthy animals don’t need antibiotics. We should save them for people who are actually sick.” I heard a similar response over and over again, from the farmers, doctors, and consumers that I spoke with.

We knew Subway was listening when it followed U.S. PIRG on Twitter back in August, especially when they announced that they were “working toward the elimination of antibiotics” later that month. But since the company didn’t commit to any specifics, we kept up the pressure. 

We’re thrilled that instead of delivering petitions, tomorrow we’ll be able to deliver a huge thank you card to Subway’s headquarters instead. Thank you Subway. Your actions will help to protect our medicine for future generations. 

Pictures: Left: Corinne doing a radio interview with local Sacramento station about our campaign. Right: We asked student groups to support the campaign, since young people are a key demographic of customers that Subway probably wants to keep. Here Consumes River College students support the campaign!