What Drugs Was Your Thanksgiving Turkey On?

Debbie Downer strikes again...

Antibiotics and other drugs are common in the turkey that thousands of Americans eat every day.
November 20, 2011 |

So far, 2011 has not been a great year for turkey producers. In May, an article in Clinical Infectious Diseases reported that half of U.S. meat from major grocery chains--turkey, beef, chicken and pork--harbors antibiotic resistant staph germs commonly called MRSA. Turkey had twice and even three times the MRSA of all other meats, in another study.

In June, Pfizer announced it was ending arsenic-containing chicken feed which no one realized they were eating anyway, but its arsenic-containing Histostat, fed to turkeys, continues. Poultry growers use inorganic arsenic, a recognized carcinogen, for "growth promotion, feed efficiency and improved pigmentation," says the FDA. Yum.

And in August, Cargill Value Added Meats, the nation's third-largest turkey processor, recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey because of a salmonella outbreak, linked to one death and 107 illnesses in 31 states. Even as it closed its Springdale, Arkansas plant, steam cleaned its machinery and added "two additional anti-bacterial washes" to its processing operations, 185,000 more pounds were recalled the next month from the same plant.

Since the mad cow and Chinese melamine scandals of the mid 2000's, a lot more people think about the food their food ate than before. But fewer people think about the drugs their food ingested. Food animal drugs seldom rate Capitol Hill hearings which is just fine with Big Pharma animals divisions since if people knew the antibiotics, heavy metals, growth promotants, vaccines, anti-parasite drugs and feed additives used on the farm, they would lose their appetite. Besides, people aren't Animal Pharma's primary customers anyway and the long term safety of animals drugs isn't an issue, since patients supposed to die.

One of the late Sen.Ted Kennedy's last legislative fights was about the overuse of livestock antibiotics. "It seems scarcely believable that these precious medications could be fed by the ton to chickens and pigs," he wrote in a bill called the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2007 (PAMTA) which has yet to pass. "These precious drugs aren't even used to treat sick animals. They are used to fatten pigs and speed the growth of chickens. The result of this rampant overuse is clear: meat contaminated with drug-resistant bacteria sits on supermarket shelves all over America," said Kennedy.

Because antibiotics make animals use feed more efficiently so they eat less and control disease in confinement farming's packed conditions at the same time, they are practically the fifth food group. On a turkey farm with five million hens, antibiotics would save almost 2,000 tons of feed a year, says an article in a poultry journal.

And when the FDA tried to ban cephalosporins in 2008, one type of antibiotic crucial for treating salmonella in children, it became apparent just what Kennedy was up against. Two months after the FDA announced a hearing about a cephalosporin "Order of Prohibition" in agriculture, the regulatory action had morphed into a "Hearing to Review the Advances In Animal Health Within The Livestock Industry" thanks to lobbyists from the egg, chicken, turkey, milk, pork and cattle industries.

"Order of Prohibition"... "Hearing to Review the Advances In Animal Health Within The Livestock Industry," same idea, right?

At the House Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry hearings [PDF], the National Turkey Federation's Michael Rybolt defended antibiotics as a cost savings to consumers. "The increased costs to raise turkeys without antibiotics is real," he said. "Today at retail outlets here in the D.C. market, a conventionally raised turkey costs $1.29 per pound. A similar whole turkey that was produced without antibiotics costs $2.29 per pound. With the average consumer purchasing a 15 pound whole turkey, that would mean there would be $15 tacked on to their grocery bill."

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