Why I’m going to Subway for lunch today

A full page ad from the National Pork Producers Council in today’s Wall Street Journal got my attention. It called Subway and its franchises to task for joining the antibiotics-free initiative which, according to the ad, means “Subway isn’t saying ‘use antibiotics only when animals are sick.’ Subway is saying no antibiotics ever—even when animal health and safety could be at risk.”

My initial reaction was, “Subway serves pork?” I thought everything was made with turkey. (Which, it turns out, is also part of the antibiotics-free initiative.) My second thought was, this can’t be true. Even bleeding hearts like Niman Ranch will give antibiotics to a sick animal, though they will then take that animal out of their inventory destined for market.

And, it turns out, the NPPC is indeed lying. It only takes a few seconds of googling to find sources like this one that make it clear the ban applies to general use of antibiotics in large quantities as a preventative tactic. (The problem is that the antibiotics are then transferred to the humans who eat the meat, and are a likely culprit for the emergence of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.) Giving a sick pig a shot of penicillin is just fine.

The NPPC also does some handwringing about how the lack of antibiotics could cause “unnecessary suffering”. If that’s indeed their concern, then they’d need to shut down the factory farms where the animals are subjected to unnecessary suffering every day of their lives.

Ethical pork husbandry, as practiced by Niman Ranch (which is now owned by Perdue, incidentally) and an increasing number of farmers, actually has huge benefits to the folks who eat the pork, and I’m not talking about good vs. evil but selfish satisfaction. There’s a world of difference between a pork chop from an animal raised humanely and allowed to roam and the watery texture and bland taste of a factory pig. Once you’ve tasted a free-range Berkshire it’s hard to go back.

And that’s why I’m headed to Subway for lunch today, in support of a position that is both good (in the altruistic sense) and good for you. By the way, if you order the cheapest Italian combo on a white bun with oil and vinegar, and have them add every available vegetable garnish, it’s surprisingly palatable.

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