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By Máiréad Loschi

Students stop to sign a petition in favor of antibiotic-free Subway meat. (Image Credit: Mairead Loschi)

Students stop to sign a petition in favor of antibiotic-free Subway meat. (Image Credit: Máiréad Loschi)

Volunteers from UConnPIRG sat outside McMahon dining hall on Tuesday with a 13 foot cardboard submarine sandwich they had built. This is part of a two week long signature campaign aimed at ending the use of antibiotics in meat at the popular fast food restaurant Subway.

Abby Katz, the Antibiotics Campaign Coordinator for UConnPIRG said the use of antibiotics in livestock and meat is extremely prevalent.

“The big problem is that 70% of the antibiotics sold in the US are used on factory farms, and most of the time its for livestock that aren’t even sick,” she said.

Factory farms use antibiotics for two reasons. The first is as a prophylactic measure, to prevent the spread of disease. The second is as a mechanism to promote growth. By giving  a daily dosage of antibiotics to livestock, farms have found that their livestock gain weight faster allowing the farms to get a bigger product in a shorter amount of time.

“It prioritizes their profits over our public health when they start overusing those antibiotics,” said Katz.

A simple infographic from the CDC explains how antibiotic resistant bacteria spread from livestock to humans.

An infographic from the CDC explains how antibiotic resistant bacteria can spread from livestock to humans. (Image Credit: CDC)

In 2014 the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that the extensive misuse of antibiotics poses a significant health threat to consumers.

“It creates those antibiotic resistant bacteria which increases the risk that you or I might get sick the next time we get one of those bacteria and now our strongest medicines don’t work anymore because the bacteria’s resistant,” Katz said.

In a 2013 Report the Center for Disease Control said, “each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections.”

Jared Delane, an intern for UConnPIRG explained the tactics of the current campaign.

“What our ideal goal would be is for the farms to completely stop doing that, but we know that’s not really likely, so what we’re trying to do is target the middle men,” said Delane.

Last year, ConnPIRG ran a successful campaign that convinced McDonald’s to phase out chicken that has been raised with antibiotics. Now ConnPIRG is turning it’s attention to Subway, the largest fast food chain in the world accounting for more stores than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined. By targeting the fast food restaurants that purchase meat ConnPIRG is hoping factory farms will feel the pressure and be forced to change.

“It forces the company that those fast food chains like McDonald’s and Subway buy from to change because they lose their largest consumers,” said Katz.

Yet another reason to target Subway is the popularity of their “Eat fresh” motto. The Subway company website emphasizes its commitment to high quality food and social responsibility.

“They’re all over the world, people love them but they’re still using livestock that’s been raised with antibiotics,” Katz said.

Using tactics that have proven effective against McDonald’s ConnPIRG hopes to demonstrate to Subway that there is a lot of student support for a change to antibiotic-free meat.

Signatures are being collected on a 13 foot cardboard submarine sandwich. (Image Credit: Charlie Smart)

“We’re trying to collect 5,000 student signatures which would be 25% of student body and we’re also trying to collect 450 photo petitions that we’ll post to social media specifically tagging Subway,” Katz said.

The signatures are being collected on a 13 foot cardboard sub, constructed by ConnPIRG volunteers. The cardboard sub is visual, social media friendly, and a display of shared opinion. The next step is to drop the signed sub at the Subway Headquarters located in Milton, Connecticut. ConnPIRG is optimistic about the support this campaign has garnered among UConn students, adding that the signed sub is getting a bit cramped.
“Yeah it’s getting really packed, we might have to make another section,” Katz said with a smile.