Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Tuesday June 23rd, 2015, 4:18pm

Public Interest Group Urges Subway To End Antibiotic Use In Meat (VIDEO)

An Illinois public interest group and its affiliates across the country launched a nationwide campaign Tuesday urging Subway to serve only antibiotic-free meat and poultry at its sandwich shops.

Specifically, the Illinois Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) is calling on Subway to "stop using meat raised with the routine use of antibiotics."

Illinois PIRG canvassers promoted the public interest group's "Subway: Go Antibiotic-Free" campaign late Tuesday morning at a Chicago Subway restaurant at 319 S. Jefferson St.

Outside the Subway location, Illinois PIRG volunteers and interns distributed flyers and asked passersby to pose for photos with signs reading, "I was craving a sub, but I wanted meat raised without antibiotics."

The images will be used as part of the group's photo petition for its campaign targeting Subway.

Earlier on Tuesday, Illinois PIRG was one of about 60 organizations focused on public interest, health, environmental and other issues that sent a letter to Subway CEO Frederick DeLuca, requesting that the company move to "phase out the routine use of antibiotics ... across all Subway meat supply chains, including turkey, beef and pork," and take immediate action "to end the routine use of medically-important antibiotics in the production of chicken sold in your restaurants."

Various restaurant chains, including Panera and Chipotle, already use antibiotic-free meat.

More recently, McDonald's announced in March that its U.S. restaurants would stop serving chicken raised with human antibiotics within the next two years.

Although Subway is testing antibiotic-free chicken strips in southern California, Illinois PIRG public health advocate Dev Gowda noted that the sandwich chain has not "made a commitment to going antibiotic-free for all of their meat, even for chicken, throughout the country."

"Subway is the largest fast food restaurant in the world, so if they made a commitment to going antibiotic-free in their meat, it would be a game-changer for not just the fast food industry, but for agriculture as well," Gowda told Progress Illinois. "It would help create a market for antibiotic-free meat, and it would pressure their suppliers to go antibiotic-free as well."

Here's more from Gowda:

A request for comment from the Subway corporation about the antibiotic-free campaign was not returned by deadline.

Both locally and nationally, growing attention is being paid to the fairly common practice of using non-therapeutic antibiotics in conventional livestock and poultry production to promote animal growth and prevent disease.

According to Illinois PIRG, 70 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States are used on livestock and poultry.

Advocates for restricting the use of antibiotics in food animals say the issue is an urgent public health problem. They say the overuse of antibiotics in livestock and poultry is making antibiotics used in medicine less effective and promoting the development of more resistant bacteria strains.

Recent research from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization have found that the antibiotics used in medicine are losing their effectiveness.

The CDC reports that 2 million people in the United States fall ill to an antibiotic-resistant infection each year, and 23,000 individuals die annually as a result of such infections.

Shortly after McDonald's March announcement stating that the company would curb the use of antibiotics in its chicken supply, the federal Task Force for Combating Resistant Bacteria, created under an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in September 2014, issued a five-year national action plan to tackle the problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Illinois PIRG says the plan includes positive action steps, but falls short when it comes to combating antibiotic "overuse and misuse" on food animals at large factory farms.

The Obama administration's action plan puts a focus on curbing antibiotic resistance in the health care setting, Gowda explained. 

"They haven't gone far enough on agriculture," he stressed. "We need the federal government to issue a ban on the use of antibiotics in healthy farm animals."

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