Subway to transition to meat raised without antibiotics

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NEW YORK (AP) — Subway said Tuesday that it plans to switch to meat raised without antibiotics over the next several years. The announcement comes after the company was targeted by advocacy groups calling for the change, with a coalition planning to deliver petitions to Subway's headquarters on Thursday.

The sandwich chain had already said this summer that it would start switching to chicken raised without antibiotics important to human medicine by next year. Now, it says it will serve chicken that receive no antibiotics starting in March 2016. It will also make the change to turkey starting sometime next year, with a transition expected to be complete within two to three years.

Pork and beef raised without antibiotics will follow within six years after that, or by 2025, the company says.

SEE MORE: Tyson Foods hopes to rid US chicken of antibiotics by 2017

The announcement comes as multiple groups including Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth, the Center for Food Safety and food blogger Vani Hari had campaigned to get Subway to commit to buying meat produced without the routine use of antibiotics, and provide a timeline for doing so.

Livestock producers often give their cattle, hog and poultry antibiotics to make them grow faster and to prevent illnesses. The practice has become a public health issue, with officials saying it can lead to germs becoming resistant to drugs so that they're no longer effective in treating a particular illness in humans.

Chipotle and Panera already say they serve meat raised without antibiotics, and McDonald's said earlier this year it would make the switch for its chicken. Subway is the largest chain in the U.S. by locations, with more than 27,000 stores.

Kari Hamerschlag, a representative for Friends of the Earth, said a coalition of groups had notified Subway last week of their plans to deliver their petitions on Thursday to its headquarters in Milford, Connecticut, but had not heard back from the company. She said the groups have been trying to get a meeting with Subway since this summer, but that the company has not been responsive.

While other chains serve meat from animals that are given antibiotics, Hamerschlag said the groups singled out Subway because of its image and lack of transparency on the matter.

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Subway to transition to meat raised without antibiotics
Amin Chakma puts up new menus featuring calorie counts at a Subway restaurant, Friday, June 29, 2007, in New York. New York is the first city in the country to require certain fast food restaurants to list calorie counts next to menu items in type that is at least as large as the price. New York City ushered in a new era of healthy eating on Sunday July 1, 2007 as a ban on trans fat-laden cooking oils in restaurants took effect. But not all fast-food eateries were following another new rule requiring them to post calorie counts on their menus. (AP Photo/Dima Gavrysh)
Liverpool FC Striker Daniel Sturridge prepares a sandwich for a fan at a SUBWAY� Restaurant on Friday, July 25, 2014 in Boston. (Photo by Gil Talbot/Invision for Subway/AP Images)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR SUBWAY - SUBWAY Global Ambassador Pelé, (right), the greatest footballer of all time, holds up his favourite SUBWAY tuna sandwich as Liverpool FC legend Robbie Fowler (left) looks on, at a SUBWAY Restaurant in London, Friday, March 20, 2015, prior to the Liverpool FC v. Manchester United football match. SUBWAY Restaurants is the Official Training Food Partner of Liverpool FC. (Photo by Mark Allan/Invision for SUBWAY Restaurants/AP Images)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR SUBWAY - Marcus Mariota, 2015 draft prospect and newest SUBWAY Famous Fan, poses with a life-size food statue made of SUBWAY sandwich ingredients in his likeness, including new SUBWAY guacamole, and a custom jersey with his signature number 8, on Wednesday, April 22, 2015, in Honolulu. Mariota joins a roster of SUBWAY Famous Fans including Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout, Russell Westbrook, Robert Griffin III, Justin Tuck, Nastia Liukin and Pelé. (Photo by Marco Garcia /Invision for SUBWAY/AP Images)
2014 draft prospect Anthony Barr poses for a picture with a food sculpture of himself at a Subway restaurant in New York, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Former U.S. Olympic Swimmer Michael Phelps, right, and Brazilian soccer legend Pele prepares sandwiches at a SUBWAY restaurant, during a event organized by SUBWAY, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Nelson Antoine/Invision for SUBWAY Restaurants/AP Images)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR SUBWAY - Linebacker Jarvis Jones, 2013 draft prospect and newest Famous Fan of SUBWAY, admires his hair on the life-size "Smokehouse BBQ Chicken" sculpture to announce Jones' official SUBWAY Famous Fan title, Tuesday, April 23, 2013, in New York. The sculpture is an artistic representation of the football star from the chest up, standing approximately three feet tall and made of almost entirely SUBWAY Smokehouse BBQ Chicken. Jarvis joins a roster of fellow Famous Fans that include Robert Griffin III, Justin Tuck, Michael Strahan, Blake Griffin and Michael Phelps.† (Photo by Diane Bondareff/Invision for SUBWAY/AP Images)
COMMERCIAL IMAGE - Apolo Ohno takes a break from his hectic schedule and visits a local SUBWAY location to enjoy his training food of choice on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 in London. (Photo by Jon Furniss/Invision for SUBWAY/AP Images)
Customers join Celebrity Chef Robert Irvine as he announces that he will be eating avocado every day of Avocado Season at SUBWAY® at the Universal CityWalk SUBWAY® restaurant on Friday June 8, 2012 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Casey Rodgers /Invision for SUBWAY® /AP Images)
US sandwich maker Subway co-founder and chairman for the world, the self-made billionaire Fred DeLuca, poses with a sandwich in a Parisian Subway restaurant on June 17, 2011 prior to attend a meeting with the press as part of the 10th anniversary of Subway France. Subway has seen its number of restaurants balloon to 33,749 across the globe as of January 1, making it the world's largest fast food chain ahead of McDonald, with 32,737 restaurants, as reported on March 11, 2011. AFP PHOTO ERIC PIERMONT (Photo credit should read ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 29: A new Turkey and Bacon Melt Wrap is seen December 29, 2003 in Chicago. Subway restaurants today started to offer two Atkins Nutritionals, Inc.-endorsed low-carbohydrate wraps. The Turkey and Bacon Melt Wrap with Monterey cheddar cheese and the Chicken Bacon Ranch Wrap with Swiss cheese. Both Atkins-Friendly Wraps are available in the U.S. and Canada and have 11 grams Net Carbs or less. The wrap itself, which is made with wheat gluten, cornstarch, oat, sesame flour and soy protein, has only 5 grams Net Carbs. Subway Restaurants is the first quick serve restaurant to partner with Atkins Nutritionals Inc. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 29: A new Turkey and Bacon Melt Wrap is seen December 29, 2003 in Chicago. Subway restaurants today started to offer two Atkins Nutritionals, Inc.-endorsed low-carbohydrate wraps. The Turkey and Bacon Melt Wrap with Monterey cheddar cheese and the Chicken Bacon Ranch Wrap with Swiss cheese. Both Atkins-Friendly Wraps are available in the U.S. and Canada and have 11 grams Net Carbs or less. The wrap itself, which is made with wheat gluten, cornstarch, oat, sesame flour and soy protein, has only 5 grams Net Carbs. Subway Restaurants is the first quick serve restaurant to partner with Atkins Nutritionals Inc. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 29: Subway restaurant store owner Shirish Dave prepares a new Chicken Bacon Ranch Wrap December 29, 2003 in Chicago. Subway restaurants today started to offer two Atkins Nutritionals, Inc.-endorsed low-carbohydrate wraps. The Turkey and Bacon Melt Wrap with Monterey cheddar cheese and the Chicken Bacon Ranch Wrap with Swiss cheese. Both Atkins-Friendly Wraps are available in the U.S. and Canada and have 11 grams Net Carbs or less. The wrap itself, which is made with wheat gluten, cornstarch, oat, sesame flour and soy protein, has only 5 grams Net Carbs. Subway Restaurants is the first quick serve restaurant to partner with Atkins Nutritionals Inc. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
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"We thought Subway was the most important one to target publicly because they claim to be this healthy fast food restaurant chain," she said.

Hamerschlag did not immediately know whether the groups would still deliver their petitions Thursday.

It isn't the first time Subway has been the target of a petition. Hari, known as the Food Babe, had also previously petitioned the company to remove azodicarbonamide from its bread, noting that the ingredient is also used in yoga mats.

Subway later removed the ingredient, which is widely used as a dough conditioner, saying it had already been in the process of doing so.

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