Your Turkey Sandwich: Now Without a Side of Antibiotics

Cargill’s ditching antibiotics in its two main turkey brands. But is it too little, too late?

<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-2245869/stock-photo-a-young-turkey-on-a-farm-with-blurry-background.html?src=_N6Cic4MVkbHk4xeEJ6Izw-1-0">ene</a>/Shutterstock


Meat behemoth Cargill—one of four big players that produce more than half of the turkey Americans eat—has announced it’s stopped all routine use of antibiotics in its two biggest turkey brands. 

Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms birds will only be treated with antibiotics when they actually come down with an infection.

The move means that for those two brands, Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms, birds will only be treated with antibiotics when they actually come down with an infection.

Back in 2014, the company stopped using antibiotics as a tool to make birds raised for those brands grow faster, complying with a request by the Food and Drug Administration that growth-promoting antibiotics be phased out of US meat production. But that doesn’t mean the company stopped routine antibiotic use. On top of being voluntary, the FDA’s request included an industry-friendly twist: It blessed the practice of using small doses to “prevent disease,” creating a loophole that critics warned would allow meat companies to continue using antibiotics routinely, a practice that erodes the effectiveness of antibiotics for treating infections in people. Cargill’s move means that the company will no longer utilize the loophole for its largest brands.

According to the latest FDA figures, nearly 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States flows to meat production. Public-health authorities from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the World Health Organization warn that overuse of drugs in meat farming contributes to the the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant pathogens, which cause 90,000 US death annually, while also racking up $55 billion in societal costs and causing 8 million additional days that people spend in the hospital, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Cargill’s announcement is the latest sign that the meat industry is slowly moving away from its decades-old reliance on routine use, a story I laid out in a Mother Jones piece earlier this year. For its beef unit, the company pledged in March to cut use of human-relevant antibiotics by 20 percent in eight large feedlots that supply it with cattle. But because the practice has gone global and bacteria move rapidly across borders, these efforts may prove to be too little, too late.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.