Pork industry speaks out on Subway antibiotics policy

by Erica Shaffer
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DES MOINES – National associations representing the pork industry challenged Subway’s decision to transition to proteins sourced from animals that have never been given antibiotics. The associations aired their concerns in a full-page ad in the Oct. 29 edition of The Wall Street Journal.

“We believe a move to NO antibiotics of any kind — Subway’s position — could leave livestock without access to animal health medicines and could result in the unnecessary suffering or death of such animals,” the ad read in part. The National Pork Producers Council and the National Pork Board submitted the ad.

Subway said the transition will begin in March 2016, when the company’s 27,000-plus restaurants will begin serving chicken raised without antibiotics, followed by turkey. The company expects to complete the transition to poultry raised without antibiotics within two to three years. Pork and beef raised without antibiotics will follow within six years after the poultry transition.

The NPPC’s position has been that animal health products, including antibiotics, must be available to producers in order to maintain the health of their animals. Additionally, US Food and Drug Administration regulations on antibiotics use in animals raised for food are increasingly strict and provide adequate safeguards against antibiotic resistance. The ad states that input from the pork industry “could have helped better inform” Subway’s policy decision.

“We ask you to meet with us to consider a more balanced approach,” the ad concluded. “We are eager to share with you the pork industry’s commitment to continuous improvement and antibiotic stewardship. We clearly disagree with you policy. Responsible antibiotic use makes sense. Continuous improvement makes sense. Please remain open-minded to the view that banning all antibiotic use is simply not the answer.”

In addition to the ad, the National Pork Board released its antibiotic research and education priorities. The board announced a seven-member panel of experts on antibiotic practices and consumer marketing. The panel members are:

• Mike Apley, D.V.M. and Ph.D., food animal production medicine, Kansas State Univ.
• Bonnie Buntain, D.V.M. and coordinator, veterinary medical and surgical program, Univ. of Arizona
• Mike Chaddock, D.V.M. and associate dean, College of Veterinary Medicine, Michigan State Univ.
• Chris Cochran, senior manager, food sustainability, Walmart
• Jim McCollum, protein purchasing manager, Independent Purchasing Cooperative, Inc.
• Justin Ransom, senior director, quality systems US, McDonald’s
• Steve Solomon, M.D., public health consultant and former director of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s office of antimicrobial resistance

In addition to the panel, the board defined a three-point action plan intended to promote educational outreach to pig farmers and sharing information with retail and foodservice industries and pork consumers. The plan includes:

• Investing $750,000 in new research projects that span five distinct priorities intended to provide data for animal and public health outcomes (pig health/welfare, human health/safety, environmental impact and pork quality).

• Updating the Pork Quality Assurance® Plus (PQA Plus®) farmer certification program in 2016 and investing up to $400,000 in education and awareness programs to ensure pig farmers understand and adopt new Food and Drug Administration rules for the use of medically important antibiotics (to treat human illness) in feed and water.

• Gathering industry leaders for meetings on responsible antibiotic use and sharing the US pork industry’s story of continuous improvement with producers and consumer media through outreach, byline articles and advertisements.

“All of these efforts are focused on sharing our story of innovation and excellence in pork production. The bottom line is simple: safe food comes from healthy animals,” Derrick Sleezer, National Pork Board president, said in a news release. “Our farmers are experts in animal care and sustainable farming. And that expertise is needed to maintain our track record of responsible antibiotic use. Our goal is to protect the health and well-being of people, pigs and the planet.”
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