Bowing to consumer pressure for greater transparency about the food they eat, on Tuesday Subway began selling sandwiches made with chicken raised without antibiotics. By 2025, the chain says, all the meat across its 30,000 North American restaurants will be antibiotic free, reports CBS News contributor Dana Jacobson.
"This is definitely not a fad," said Jean Halloran, director of food policy at Consumers Union.
She welcomes the change.
"This is a problem that's been brewing for decades and is getting seriously worse," said Halloran, who added that there is no danger to consumers from meat that doesn't have antibiotics in it.
The danger is not the antibiotics themselves, but rather the superbugs that evolve to resist the antibiotics being used by large factory farms. Those drug-resistant germs then enter the food supply. According to the CDC, 23,000 people die from superbugs every year.
"We're at the beginning of potential catastrophe," Halloran said. "Even a simple cut could become infected and have a deadly staph infection."
In September, Halloran worked on a report grading 25 fast-food chains on the use of antibiotics in their meat. Only Panera, Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts received passing grades.
Other chains vowing to take similar steps include McDonald's, Wendy's and In-N-Out. Last week, In-N-Out burger said it's looking to phase out antibiotics from its meat supply, but didn't specify a timeline. Wendy's said it is offering antibiotic-free grilled chicken sandwiches in four test markets.
Farmers use antibiotics to keep their livestock healthy, but Wall Street Journal reporter Jacob Bunge said the restaurants may eventually force their hand.
"They will turn to their chicken suppliers, to their pork suppliers and say, 'We need you to give us meat that has been raised without antibiotics,'" Bunge said.
"The price of these meals probably will not go up much, if at all," Halloran said. "They seem to be making changes without having price increases to the consumer."
The CDC says one in five drug-resistant infections is caused by germs from food or animals. It's not just restaurants that are switching over. Meat companies are getting into the act as well. Perdue said more than half of the chickens it sells are raised without any antibiotics.