Buy an Antibiotic-Free Turkey for Thanksgiving to Reduce the Spread of Drug Resistance

CC BY 2.0. Annie

Approximately 23,000 Americans die of antibiotic-resistant infections annually -- a problem that's perpetuated by the ongoing consumption of contaminated retail meat.

“At the center of our Thanksgiving tables is an animal that never breathed fresh air or saw the sky until it was packed away for slaughter. At the end of our forks is an animal that was incapable of reproducing sexually. In our bellies is an animal with antibiotics in its belly. The very genetics of our birds are radically different. If the pilgrims could have seen into the future, what would they have thought of the turkey on our table? Without exaggeration, it’s unlikely that they would recognize it as a turkey.” Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer

A healthcare non-profit organization in the United States wants people across the nation to sign an unusual pledge:

“To celebrate Thanksgiving this year by purchasing (or encouraging my Thanksgiving host to purchase) a turkey raised without the routine use of antibiotics.”

While the pledge is geared at healthcare workers, it promotes a very important message that would benefit all turkey-eating Americans, if they’d pay attention to it. Antibiotic resistance is on the rise, and is due in no small part to the role that antibiotic overuse plays in meat production.

According to a document published by Health Care Without Harm, an estimated 30 million pounds of antibiotics are sold for use in industrial animal agriculture – four times the amount used by the health care sector. These antibiotics, which are administered through food and water to otherwise perfectly healthy animals in order to compensate for the atrociously overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions commonly found in CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), are not strong enough to kill bacteria and eventually result in bacteria resistance.

Strains of resistant bacteria transfer from animals to humans through various pathways – i.e. consumption of contaminated meat sold in stores, contact with soil or manure-contaminated water, handling animals or their feed – and result in a situation that really should strike far more terror into people’s hearts than it currently does: a growing number of human deaths due to antibiotic resistance. Already, an estimated 23,000 Americans die annually as a result of antibiotic-resistant infections.

The Centers for Disease Control published a disturbing study in 2013 that included this disturbing statement: “Antibiotic resistance – when bacteria don’t respond to the drugs designed to kill them – threatens to return us to the time when simple infections were often fatal.”

The good news is that meat-eaters can make a difference by choosing to buy antibiotic-free meat, and upcoming Thanksgiving is an excellent place to start. If you’re turned off by the seemingly exorbitant price tag, keep in mind that the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System recently reported that 81 percent of conventional retailed turkey samples are contaminated with antibiotic resistant bacteria called Enterococcus faecalis. Yuck.