On October 20, Subway announced its intentions to serve only meat from livestock and poultry never treated with antibiotics, beginning with poultry next year. This decision came after a public pressure campaign from activist groups including the Center for Food Safety, Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth, and of course, the “Food Babe.”

While these groups were quick to take credit for the announcement, Subway instead referenced consumer interest as the reason for the change. This line is familiar - many times, when food retailers or restaurant brands announce policies for their suppliers, they cite consumer demand as the motivation for doing so. However, in this instance particularly, I have to question that.

As of right now, a few days after Subway posted a Facebook status update announcing the change, the post has just over 1,000 likes. The status also has over 1,000 comments, but note that many of those comments are from farmers, agriculture professionals and consumers questioning the merit of the decision and emphasizing the critical role of judicious antibiotic use in providing animal care. Interestingly, Subway first attempted to delete any comments not entirely supportive of the decision.

Let’s compare those statistics to other recent posts.

  • On October 14, the brand posted a photo of an employee holding a sub like a baby with the tagline, “Our mother told us not to name them or we’d get too attached. Too late.” This content garnered over 6,000 likes.
  • On September 1, Subway posted a video of a sub being showered with diamonds, with the caption “Minutes in your hands, a lifetime in your mind. Footlongs are forever.” This post’s results? More than 9,000 likes and 800 comments.
  • On October 19, the page featured a post promoting a Microsoft Band 2 giveaway. This post has received more than 30,000 likes.
  • If Subway’s customer base were truly asking for this announcement, wouldn’t they care more about it than about funny photos and videos featuring sandwiches? As a social media manager, I know that social media results don’t always reflect the true importance of a subject. But I do think the trend and huge disparity in results are noteworthy, and I hope Subway is paying attention.

I would encourage the brand to re-visit the true interests and values of its customer base and find other ways to maintain a competitive edge than confusing them with misleading claims about antibiotic use.

Editor’s Note: Hannah Thompson is the Communications Director at the Animal Agriculture Alliance, and the opinions of this commentary are expressly her own. For more information on the Alliance, go to: www.animalagalliance.org