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What Drugs Was Your Thanksgiving Turkey On?

Antibiotics and other drugs are common in the turkey that thousands of Americans eat every day.

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Conventionally grown turkeys are even a better deal when you consider the cost of antibiotics!

And, antibiotic-based turkey farming is downright green, said Rybolt, calling 227 acre turkey operations, "small family farms." Without them, more land would be needed to grow crops and house the animals because of the "decrease in density." And, with 175,550 more tons of feed needed, there would be "an increase in manure."

When the FDA capitulated to industry and turned the cephalosporin prohibition into a salute to animal "advances," former Kansas governor and former dairyman John Carlin, asked, "What changed in less than five months? Certainly the problem hasn't gone away."

This month, the FDA also rejected petitions to ban human antibiotics like penicillins, tetracyclines and sulfonamides in livestock filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Environmental Defense, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT), and the Union of Concerned scientists, some filed over 12 years ago. Why?  "FDA cannot withdraw approval of a new animal drug until the legally-mandated process," said an FDA spokesman. The process includes an "evidentiary hearing," perhaps like the cephalosporin advances.

Of course germs in turkey and other meat, even antibiotic resistant germs, are neutralized by cooking--but drug residues are not. A report last year from the USDA's inspector general accuses U.S. slaughterhouses of releasing products to the public with excessive drug levels in them and charges that, "The effects of these residues on human beings who consume such meat are a growing concern."

Nor are the antibiotics just in the meat! Scientists at the University of Minnesota found antibiotic residues in corn, green onions and cabbage after growing them on soil fertilized with livestock manure. The drugs siphoned right up from the soil in just six weeks.

A quick look at the Code of Federal Regulations for turkey drugs does not whet you appetite for Thanksgiving. There are several arsenic turkey drugs approved to provide an, "increased rate of weight gain and improved feed efficiency," say the official guidelines. But they are also "dangerous for ducks, geese, and dogs," and must be discontinued,  "5 days before slaughtering animals for human consumption to allow elimination of the drug from edible tissues." Whew.

Halofuginone, another drug given to turkeys to kill pathogens, "is toxic to fish and aquatic life" and "an irritant to eyes and skin," says the Federal Code. "Avoid contact with skin, eyes, or clothing" and "Keep out of lakes, ponds, and streams." Bon appetit.

Drug-based farming has cut the time to "grow" an animal almost in half while doubling the market size of the animal itself.  For example, chickens were once slaughtered at fourteen weeks, weighing two pounds and are now slaughtered at seven weeks, weighing four and six pounds.

But the Brave New food techniques come at a price because the animals' organs can not always keep up with the metabolic frenzy. Birds "fed and managed in such a way that they are growing rapidly," are at risk of sudden death from cardiac problems and aortic rupture, say poultry scientists.

Growth drugs in turkeys may also "result in leg weakness or paralysis," says the Federal Code, a side effect that a turkey slaughterhouse worker reports firsthand. Many turkeys arrive at the House of Raeford, in Raeford, NC with legs broken or dislocated, he told me in an interview and, "When you try to remove them from their crates, their legs twist completely around, limp and offering no resistance." The turkeys, "must have been in a lot of pain," says the worker, but they don't cry out. "In fact the only sound as you hang them, he says, is the "trucks being washed out to go back and get a new load."

 
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