Thanksgiving Guide: Finding Antibiotic-Free Turkeys

November 20, 2020 – As Americans shop for Thanksgiving turkeys, a public health advocacy group has released a buying guide that rates brands against their antibiotic use policies.

Of the 15 brands assessed, eight got the green light, four got a warning light and three got a red light, based on information about antibiotic use in turkeys found on the companies’ websites.

Industry representatives disputed the report’s findings.

The news regarding the use of antibiotics in turkey production, on the whole, is encouraging, says Sydney Riess, public health campaign associate for the US Public Interest Research Group, a federation of state groups that advocate against threats to public health and safety. His report, “Talking about Turkey”, was released today.

But, says Riess, “we also know there’s a long way to go.”

Medically important drugs that fight germs, defined as those needed to treat human disease, cannot be used in turkeys and other food animals to promote growth, according to FDA regulations. used to prevent disease, she says. Some public health experts say the policy should be more stringent, allowing antibiotics to be used only to treat sick animals diagnosed by a licensed veterinarian or, in some cases, to control an outbreak of verified disease. Overuse of antibiotics leads to antibiotic resistance, an emerging global health problem.

What the report found

The US Public Interest Research Group, or US PIRG, evaluated 15 popular brands of turkey, studying each brand’s website for their policy on antibiotic use. Using this data, he divided the companies into green, yellow, or red categories, from most ideal to least.

The companies given the green light have publicly available information on their websites saying they are banning the use of all antibiotics or the routine use of medically important antibiotics for all whole turkeys sold.

Of the 15 brands studied, eight were classified in the green category:

  • Fossil farms
  • Koch’s
  • Murray’s
  • Nature breeder
  • Norbest
  • Organic meadow
  • Lost
  • Plainville Farms

According to information on their websites, companies in the yellow category may offer whole turkey lines raised without antibiotics or without the routine use of medically important antibiotics. But the policy does not necessarily apply to all whole turkeys sold by this brand, based on information on the website, according to US PIRG.

Four companies are in this yellow category:

  • Butterball
  • Hospitality farms
  • Jennie-O
  • Pride of the North

Companies in the red category have little or no information on the use of antibiotics in whole turkeys on their websites; the data there suggests that they continue to regularly use medically important antibiotics to prevent disease in healthy animals, according to the US PIRG.

Companies in the red category include:

  • White Honeysuckle
  • Shady Brook Farms
  • Signature Farms

Industry response

Beth Breeding, spokesperson for the National Federation of Turkey, an industry group, reviewed the report and responded. “Members of the Turkish National Federation are committed to using antibiotics wisely in turkey production, and the industry has prioritized reducing the need to use antibiotics used to treat people while maintaining our commitment. for animal welfare, ”she says.

Breeding says the report “has many omissions and errors.” Among them, several companies mentioned have not been contacted, she said.

The report is misleading and false, says Daniel Sullivan, a spokesperson for Cargill, which sells Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms turkeys. “The mistake is that they make these claims only on the basis of what is or is not published on a product website, and not on actual data,” he says. His company doesn’t use antibiotics in its turkeys preventively (on healthy animals) and hasn’t done so since 2016, he says. “Almost 50 percent of birds sold under the Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms brands are antibiotic free, which means they have never been used. The Honest Turkey brand [also a Cargill brand] is 100% antibiotic free. No mention of this anywhere in the report. “

Learn about FDA regulations, public health concerns

The FDA updated its regulations on the use of medically important antibiotics in food animals in 2017, saying these drugs can only be used in the food or drinking water of food producing animals. food under veterinary supervision and cannot be used to stimulate growth.

According to the CDC, each year in the United States, at least 2.8 million people contract an infection resistant to antibiotics and more than 35,000 die.

According to the US PIRG, in 2017, turkey production used nearly 18 times more medically important antibiotics than chicken per pound of meat produced.

Expert point of view

“Report shows progress has been made among major producers of fresh turkey to reduce overuse [of antibiotics]says Steven Roach, director of the food safety program for Food Animal Concerns Trust, a nonprofit that advocates for animal welfare, which reviewed the report.

“Lost [a major producer] no longer allows the routine use of antibiotics, and some other major producers are marketing turkeys raised under reduced antibiotic use programs, ”he says.

“The report is a useful tool for consumers looking for a turkey and wanting to reward companies for doing the right thing when it comes to antibiotics. A challenge for consumers and consumer advocates is the lack of transparency from companies on how they actually use antibiotics on their farms. “

Consumers may also look for specific phrases on the turkey’s label, such as “No antibiotics given,” “Raised without antibiotics” or “No antibiotics ever,” according to US PIRG.

WebMD Health News


Sydney Riess, Public Health Campaigns Associate, US Public Interest Research Group.

US Public Interest Research Group: “Talking About Turkey: A Consumer’s Guide to Buying Turkey Without Antibiotic Abuse”.

Steven Roach, Director of the Food Safety Program, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Chicago.

Beth Breeding, spokesperson, National Federation of Turkey, Washington, DC

Daniel Sullivan, spokesperson, Cargill, Minneapolis.

CDC: “Antibiotic / Antimicrobial Resistance (AR / AMR)”.

FDA: “Antimicrobial Resistance”.

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