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Tips for a Turkey that Puts the Thanks in Thanksgiving

By Cameron Harsh, Senior Manager for Organic and Animal Policy

November 20, 2017
Center for Food Safety

On Thursday, November 23, many families in the United States will gather together to share a meal and celebrate all that they cherish in their lives. For many, the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal is still the traditional turkey, cooked to perfection and accessorized by an assortment of traditional side dishes.

As with any other day, the food on your table matters: it matters for your family’s health, the heath of the planet, the success of our farmers, and the wellbeing of our communities. Turkey is no exception. Raising turkeys in intensive, industrial confinement systems takes an enormous toll on the environment through unmanageable amounts of waste and routine use of animal drugs to boost productivity. The turkeys themselves undergo inhumane physical alterations and are forced to live in stressful, overcrowded conditions. This leads to suppressed immunity, poor health, high prevalence of disease and pathogens, and violent behaviors towards one another.

If turkey is on your Thanksgiving menu, seek out brands and producers that raise animals humanely, without unnecessary pharmaceuticals, and in a manner that maintains or improves the natural environment near the farm. Check out this Holiday Turkey Buying Guide for resources on where to look and what to look for.

If you are not able to get a more humane and environmentally friendly turkey for this Thanksgiving, be sure to keep this in mind for other turkey-centric holidays or your regular turkey purchases throughout the year.

Looking for certified humane, organic, and/or pasture-raised turkeys from reliable and verified sources means, among other things, you are keeping animal drugs off your Thanksgiving menu.

A wide range of pharmaceuticals are allowed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for routine use in healthy animals to increase rate of weight gain, improve feed efficiency, or in anticipation of disease brought on by unsanitary, stressful conditions. This last practice, disease prevention, relies on drugs to reduce the significant risks to animals in intensive confinement conditions instead of improving living conditions through sufficient lighting, adequate space, access to the outdoors, and appropriate nutrition. FDA continues to consider using drugs for disease prevention an acceptable practice, even for antibiotics considered medically important.

FDA has taken some minor steps to eliminate the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion and feed efficiency in animal feed. However several drugs, including other antibiotics, continue to have approvals as feed medications to increase rate of weight gain and improve feed efficiency, including:

· Antibiotics like bambermycin, lasalocid, monensin, and bacitracin methylene disalicylate.

· Antiparasitics like amprolium, diclazuril, halofuginone, and zoalene.

· Steroidal agents like ractopamine.

Roughly 60-80% of the antibiotics eaten by animals raised for food are excreted in their waste. As a result, low levels of antibiotics are present in soil and water near confinement systems, and common veterinary antibiotics have acute and chronic toxicity on freshwater wildlife. Ractopamine is also found at high levels near CAFOs, but its impact on wildlife and persistence in the environment has not been sufficiently studied. See our Pharming Profits fact sheet for more information on the human, animal, and environmental impacts of common animal drugs.

When planning your Thanksgiving or other holiday menus, opt out of the industrial, over-medicated, inhumane system, and support your local, organic, humane, or pasture-based turkey farmers. Check out Holiday Turkey Buying Guide to find tips on what to look for, and what to avoid. Our farmers will thank you!

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