**AUTHORS NOTE: Due to the huge response to this blog post and my responsibilities on the farm, I am unable to respond to each comment made by readers. I am reading the comments, and I plan to post a new blog responding to questions brought up in the comment section within the next few days. Thank you for reading, and thank you for caring. It renews my faith in our country that 400,000 of you all care enough about your food to read a farmer’s thoughts.
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.
In my mind, Subway’s announcement states that a bullet is their treatment of choice for sick food animals. They wish to only purchase meat that comes from animals that have never been treated with an antibiotic. Food animals (like cattle) are grown for the sole purchase of providing a high quality dietary protein. If Subway does not want the meat from an animal that required antibiotic treatment for illness at any time during its lifetime, then I have two choices: leave the sick animal to suffer until it likely dies, or shoot it with a bullet and end its life immediately.
Quite frankly, neither choice is acceptable to me. I hope that neither choice is acceptable to you.
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.
Let’s do a little bit of cowboy math to look at the reality of Subway’s statement…
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.
I marketed approximately 5500 animals during that 12 month period which means that somewhere in the neighborhood of 430 of those animals were treated on my farm for an individually diagnosed illness. Each of those animals produced approximately 820# of meat and other products. Either shooting these animals with a bullet at diagnosis or letting them suffer until they died would result in an estimated 352,600# of wasted product.
That scenario is both irresponsible and unacceptable. I am a dedicated animal caregiver, and I am proud of the beef that comes from my animals. It is safe – I feed it to my family. However, some of it comes from animals that required additional care in the form of an antibiotic to regain health at some point in their two year life time.
As a mother, a farmer, and an American: I recognize the importance of the antibiotic resistance issue. I have blogged about it many times. However, we need to respond intelligently in our quest for a remedy. There is nothing intelligent about a corporate statement that dictates wasting millions of pounds of food each year.
It saddens me that food production has slumped to this level, and I refuse to comply.
**Subway issued a revised statement this afternoon. You can find this statement along with my responses to questions asked in the comment section of this blog post in a new post by clicking here.