Recent Macalester alum Andrew Gage ’15 made a return to Mac this week to promote a campaign he’s working on with organizing group “Impact” calling for Subway (the restaurant chain) to stop using meats raised with antibiotics. Gage returned to Mac to raise awareness of the campaign through a screening of the documentary “Resistance” on Wednesday night.
The film explores the rise of antibiotic-resistant super bacteria, which scientists agree can arise from overuse of antibiotics on factory farms. The film showing was sponsored by many different groups on campus, including MacCARES, MacPIRG, MacFEAST, Mac Bio Club and the Community and Global Health department.
Following the film, there was a discussion of antibiotic overuse with a panel of knowledgeable people allowed attendees of the screening to gain a more in-depth understanding of the documentary’s arguments. The panel of experts included Macalester biology professors Susan Bush and Steven Sundby, Dr. Dimitri Drekonja, an infectious disease doctor at the Minnesota VA, and Elizabeth O’Sullivan, a Northfield farmer who raises chickens and hogs without the use of antibiotics.
The panelists fielded questions about individual actions, the predicament of the modern-day farmer, and the links between animal growth and antibiotics.
Since graduating this past May, Gage has been working on the campaign to pressure Subway to remove meats raised with antibiotics from their stores.
“We’re targeting Subway because Subway is the largest fast food chain in the world, so they have a large market share and buy a lot of meat,” Gage said. “They have actually more locations than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined.”
The campaign, titled ‘Supersubs not Superbugs,’ has targeted other fast food chains in the past.
“This campaign targeted McDonald’s in the spring, and after a few months of campaigning, they decided to switch to antibiotic-free chicken,” Gage said. “So when McDonald’s switched [to antibiotic-free chicken], their suppliers, like Tyson foods, which is a huge supplier of chicken worldwide, switched as well. That’s what we’re going for with Subway in this campaign.”
The campaign seeks to promote change through consumer demand rather than through policy action.
“It’s important to have change in the market rather than regulation from the top down,” Gage explained. “It’s a better way to go about this at the moment because the Food and Drug Administration regulations have loopholes that make real change difficult.”
Panelist Drekonja agreed. “Until there is a market for pigs, cows, chickens that are raised differently, you sort of have to go along with [using antibiotics on your farm] or get out.”
While the issue has been in the popular media recently, Gage said that the more he’s learned about it, the more concerned he’s become.
“[Overuse of antibiotics] was something that I had been aware of as an issue, but [before this campaign] I guess I wasn’t aware of what the scale of it was,” Gage said. “It’s a growing public health crisis, and it’s something that we need to address now.”