Cargill Says It Will Stop Using Antibiotics To Fatten Up Turkeys, But Do They Mean It?

Three years ago, Cargill recalled 36 million pounds of Salmonella-tainted ground turkey (followed by a later recall of another 185,000 pounds of the stuff). The particular strain of Salmonella involved in these recalls and the subsequent outbreak that sickened at least 134 people in 36 states, is resistant to antibiotics, likely because of all the drugs put into the turkeys’ feed solely because it has th side-effect of encouraging tissue growth. Yet only now is the agribusiness giant thinking maybe it shouldn’t carelessly shove antibiotics down the throats of the birds it sells to consumers.

Cargill announced yesterday that it is removing antibiotics from its signature Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms turkey brands.

Wait — I misspoke.

Cargill says it will no longer use antibiotics for growth promotion in these turkeys. That’s a big difference, as the company is still keeping the door open for use of the drugs for “treatment of illness and disease prevention.”

Ahhh… the beloved disease prevention loophole.

See, any doctor worth her wall full of degrees will tell you that it’s a bad idea for humans to constantly be given antibiotics for “disease prevention” because it will reduce the drug’s effectiveness and encourage the development of drug-resistant microbes; instead of preventing a disease, you’re opening yourself up to worse ailments.

But when it comes to farm animals, the big meat and big pharma industries are of the mind that feeding livestock a steady stream of antibiotics will somehow keep them from getting sick. Of course, this drug-filled “prevention” diet — which accounts for around 80% of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. — will still result in bigger poultry, pigs, and cattle.

Cargill’s president of its Turkey & Cooked Meats business, says that “ending the use of antibiotics to promote growth in turkeys is an important step that provides consumers with nutritious and affordable options,” but it’s all just smoke and mirrors if the company continues to allow large-volume preventative use of the drugs.

The folks at Keep Antibiotics Working, a group seeking to curb the unnecessary over-use of antimicrobials in farm animals says it’s good that Cargill is at least acknowledging that its customers may not want drug-filled meat, but is concerned that the new policy isn’t strong enough.

“By failing to extend its pledge to antibiotics used for routine disease prevention — which can be identical to growth promotion in terms of dose, duration, and prevalence — the company is leaving open a giant loophole in its policy,” writes KAW in statement. “Unless Cargill addresses this important oversight, its policy will do little to curb the risk of antibiotic resistant bacteria in their turkeys, or protect their consumers.”