Subway says it beats rivals on antibiotic-free chicken

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Subway is adding antibiotic-free chicken to its menu, claiming victory over rivals that announced plans to rid poultry offerings of the drugs but haven’t yet executed in all their locations.

The company said it’s the largest chain of its kind to deliver “on its promise to guests ahead of a number of its competitors.” In March, McDonald’s said it would eliminate the antibiotics that are important to human medicine but is still working with suppliers to make the change.

Chick-fil-A made a similar announcement in 2014. The company said it is at 23% of its goal to eliminate antibiotics and is on track for a full conversion by 2019 — a policy it says is more restrictive on antibiotics than its competitors.

Many fast food and so-called fast casual companies want to convince customers of their commitment to “cleaner” ingredients. Subway also said it was on “track to remove all artificial colors, flavors and preservatives from North American menu items.”

Today’s announcement follows one about a year ago when the chain said it was working to nix antibiotics in chicken by this year and doing the same for turkey by 2016. The ultimate goal: removing all antibiotics from meat by 2025.

Public health officials have been warning about the dangers of antibiotics in our food supply for years. The food industry’s overuse of the drugs is fomenting the rise of the superbug—bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. That’s because every time we use antibiotics, some bacteria survive — and those drug-resistant bacteria can then multiply and spread. As we use more and more antibiotics, the problem magnifies — generating more numerous and powerful superbugs.

Last year, a group of advocacy organizations published a report that graded fast food chains based on their antibiotic policies. Subway was one of the companies that received an F, along with Wendy’s, Burger King, Denny’s, Domino’s and Starbucks.

At the time, the report indicated that Chipotle and Panera were the only chains that said publicly that a majority of their meat and poultry is produced without the routine use of the drugs. Chick-fil-A scored a “B.”

Subway says its achievement is unique because of the scale of its operation. It has about 27,000 stores in the U.S., while Chipotle and Panera have a fraction off that.

The company said the new Rotisserie-style chicken sandwich, which isn’t actually cooked on a rotating spit, will be available on March 1 with a suggested retail price of $4.75 for a 6-inch sub and $7.75 for a foot-long.