Antibiotic claims serve to scare consumers, limit farmers

newspaperFarmers and farm organizations rallied last month to assure consumers that there are no antibiotics in their sandwiches—or their food supply in general.

“Assertions like the announcement from Subway in October that their stores will begin using only meats from animals that have never been treated with antibiotics have nothing to do with health. They have everything to do with frightening consumers in order to sell a product,” said Lindsay Reames, assistant director of governmental relations for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

It is frustrating for members of the agriculture community, Reames said, “to see the public misled about their food. It is already illegal to send a food animal for processing with antibiotics in its system, and a percentage of meat in every processing plant in the United States is tested for the presence of antibiotics.” When farmers treat animals with antibiotics, they are required to observe a withdrawal period between the end of the treatment and the time the animals are processed.

After loud and sustained complaints by farm and food industry stakeholders—and numerous social media campaigns by individual farmers—Subway softened its stance somewhat, noting that its goal is “to reduce and eliminate the use of antibiotics in the food we serve.” At the same time, the company recognized that antibiotics “are critical tools for keeping animals healthy.”

Antibiotics “are one option among many that farmers have to ensure healthy animals and, ultimately, healthy food,” Reames said.

On many farms across the nation, she noted, families are eating the same foods that they sell. “Farmers are not going to jeopardize their own health or the health of their families, and they recognize the huge responsibility attached to raising products that go into the food supply. Consumers who ask questions about how their foods are produced are doing their families a tremendous service, and there are reputable industry organizations that are happy to share science-based information.”

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