Prozac, Arsenic and Beer in Your Turkey? 9 Creepy Things To Know About Your Holiday Meal
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
With Thanksgiving days away, U.S. turkey growers are probably relieved that no arsenic, salmonella or cruelty stories have yet surfaced like they have in other years. But that doesn't mean the turkey on your holiday table is exactly wholesome. In fact, the chemicals, food additives and extreme production methods used to deliver the nation's plump, affordable turkeys just in time for Thanksgiving are enough to make you lose your appetite.
1. Extreme Cruelty To Animals
If you think of Butterball as a trusted name that operates a help line for Thanksgiving Day cooks, then the turkey giant has succeeded at its PR job. Less than a year ago, workers at Butterball turkey operations in North Carolina were videotaped kicking and stomping birds, dragging them by their wings and necks and slamming them into tiny transport crates. It was a year after Butterball workers were charged with criminal cruelty for the same actions!
Butterball is "taking steps to help ensure that all new and existing associates have a clear understanding of our animal well-being policies," Butterball CEO Rod Brenneman claimed after the first offenses. Maybe employees don't know they aren't supposed to kick, drag and bash birds. After the second offenses, Butterball launched a audacious radio campaign about its convenient holiday help line with no mention of the criminal abuse. Twenty percent of U.S. turkeys on the Thanksgiving table come from Butterball, but it is hardly the only abuser. Shocking cruelty has also been documented at Aviagen Turkeys in West Virginia and House of Raeford in North Carolina.
2. Resistant Salmonella and Other Superbugs
Two years ago, huge recalls of salmonella-contaminated ground turkey from Cargill and Jennie-O/Hormel sickened many and one person died. While the food giants say they have cleaned up their acts, that's not what Consumer Reports found in March. Five percent of 257 samples of raw ground turkey that was bought at grocery stores around the country and tested, harbored salmonella, 67 percent of which was resistant to more than one antibiotic. The government admitted that 81 percent of ground turkey it tested is contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The superbugs result from the routine use of human antibiotics on commercial U.S. farms so operators can grow the animals faster and with less feed. Seventy percent of the farm antibiotics are not for sick animals but to maximize profits and prevent infections.
The U.S. turkey industry doesn't try to hide the stew of antibiotics it depends on for cheap turkeys—it brags about them. "The increased costs to raise turkeys without antibiotics is real," said the National Turkey Federation's Michael Rybolt at Capitol Hill antibiotics hearings in 2008. "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 onto their grocery bill."
The industry claims that antibiotics are also "green." Without them, more land would be needed to grow crops because the birds would eat more—requiring 175,550 more tons of feed and causing "an increase in manure" said Rybolt. More land would also be required from the "decrease in density" because the birds couldn't be squeezed in together the way they are now.
4. Clostridium difficile or "C Diff"
C. difficile is an intestinal bacteria that is increasingly antibiotic-resistant, consigning thousands of Americans in healthcare settings and the community to a life of chronic pain, diarrhea and expensive treatments. (C. Diff is why "fecal transplants" are in the news these days—they are thought to replenish intestinal bacteria.) Glenn Songer of Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine says 40 percent of beef, pork and turkey products tested had the C. diff strains found in humans, raising the possibility of a foodborne source for human illnesses.