The Chicago-based advocacy group FACT (Food Animal Concerns Trust) has released a new report examining the use of antibiotics and two other drugs by top turkey producers in the U.S. Turkey is a holiday favorite and generally considered healthier than other meats, but some turkeys may contain antibiotics and other veterinary drugs that can help propagate superbugs, leave carcinogenic residues in the meat, and endanger animal health.
FACT contacted 20 turkey producers about their use of antibiotics, the artificial growth drug ractopamine, and the arsenic-containing veterinary drug nitarsone.
FACT objects to the use of antibiotics to promote growth or to prevent disease, recognizing antibiotic use as necessary only to treat animals sick with a bacterial infection. Antibiotics for growth or disease prevention are given in low doses over a long period, which may lead to the spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
Only one company, Plainville Farms (a brand of Hain Pure Protein Corporation), sells only meat from turkeys that have not received antibiotics. Eight other companies produce some, but not all, of their turkeys under “a raised without antibiotics” or organic program: Cargill, Perdue Farms, Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative, Foster Farms, Michigan Turkey Producers, Zacky Farms, Northern Pride, and West Liberty Foods. Tyson Foods reported they only use antibiotics for treatment of sick animals, though all animals in the groups treated.
Ractopamine is an artificial growth drug used in the last two weeks before slaughter to add more muscle without an increase in fat. It has been associated with high stress levels in animals (including increased mortality in turkeys under heat stress), hyperactivity, and death. Ractopamine residue negatively affect meat taste and tenderness. It is banned in the E.U., and both Russia and China have bans on imported beef, pork, and turkey not certified ractopamine-free.
In the FACT report, nine turkey producers reported they do not use ractopamine in their turkeys: Butterball, Jennie-O, Turkey Store, Cargill, Tyson Foods, Plainville Farms, Perdue, Prestage Farms, and Norbest.
Nitarsone is an feed additive containing arsenic that was until recently used in turkey feed to prevent a parasitic disease. A similar drug, roxarsone, used in chicken feed was found to leave carcinogenic residues. In May the FDA announced nitarsone would be withdrawn from sale by the end of 2015. FACT did not report on nitarsone use because it will soon be off the market.
This holiday season, FACT recommends purchasing turkeys that have a third party verified human certification, such as Animal Welfare Approved. If purchasing from a local farm, consult FACT’s Humane Principles for Turkeys to help evaluate farms. Those in Chicago can consult Humane Choices in Chicago for brands and where to buy them.
FACT was founded in 1982 and promotes humane and healthy farms through science-based advocacy, consumer education, and support for humane farmers. This support includes FACT’s Fund-A-Farmer Project, which awards grants and organizes peer-to-peer farmer education to increase the number of animals that are raised humanely. Understanding that farmers often want to make changes to give their animals a better life, Fund-A-Farmer provides small grants and resources to make these changes possible.