Subway said on Tuesday that it plans to eventually eliminate the use of antibiotics in all meats it uses in its sandwiches, becoming the largest restaurant chain by store count to make such a move amid concerns for public health.
The sandwich chain will start serving chicken and turkey free of antibiotics at its 27,000 U.S. restaurants in 2016, and phase them out. (Turkey will take longer to eliminate, requiring up to three years.) Subway will start introducing antibiotics free pork and beef a few years later with a plan to also have them gone entirely by 2015.
Rival restaurant chains such as Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) and McDonald’s (MCD) have already announced similar moves in response to growing customer demands.
“Today’s consumer is ever more mindful of what they are eating, and we’ve been making changes to address what they are looking for,” said Dennis Clabby, executive vice president of Subway’s Independent Purchasing Cooperative (IPC), which helps the chain’s franchisees buy goods and services.
There has long been a concern among public health experts and regulators that routinely feeding antibiotics to animals could spur the creation of antibiotic-resistant superbugs in humans, a public health risk. And food companies have been deviled by the challenging of finding enough protein raised in the United States without antibiotics.