If you're buying a Thanksgiving turkey, choose organic

roasting turkey
Public Domain Unsplash

Help stop the rise of antibiotic resistance by choosing a bird that's been raised drug-free.

If you're a meat-eater – which I realize many TreeHugger readers are not, but I know some of you are – then the purpose of this post is to convince you to buy an organic turkey for Thanksgiving, instead of the much cheaper Butterballs in the freezer section of your supermarket.

This decision matters for a number of reasons. Buying organic means you're supporting an approach to animal husbandry that does not rely on antibiotics for disease prevention and artificial growth promotion, but instead provides better conditions and a more natural lifestyle.

Not only is this kinder to the animals, but you're taking action to protect your own future wellbeing and that of subsequent generations. Roughly 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States are given to animals, often preventively and excessively, and, as a result, antibiotic resistance in humans is on the rise. An estimated 23,000 Americans die every year because antibiotics don't work, and that number is only going to get larger over time.

These drug-resistant bacteria do not remain on farms either, according to Consumer Reports:

"[They] continue to reproduce and spread resistance to other bacteria in the animal waste and can get into our environment via airborne dust blowing off of farms, and water and soil polluted with contaminated feces. Drug-resistant bacteria can also spread from farms to humans through farmworkers who handle animals or their wastes."

Consumer Reports urges turkey shoppers to look for four specific labels – USDA Organic, Raised Without Antibiotics, No Antibiotics Administered, or No Antibiotics Ever. Anything other than these should be avoided, e.g. 'antibiotic-free,' 'no antibiotic residues,' and 'no growth promoting antibiotics.' These claims are not approved or recognized by the USDA.

Similarly, terms like 'natural' and 'raised without hormones or steroids' are meaningless, as they have nothing to do with whether or not the animal has received antibiotics. From Consumer Reports:

"On meat and poultry, 'natural' just means minimally processed without any artificial ingredients. It does not mean organic or no antibiotics. And hormones and steroids are prohibited in turkey production, so a turkey that carries the claim is not necessarily a better choice than one without it."

Free-range is another worthwhile label to pursue, although I'm always skeptical of it in supermarkets. As long as meat is coming from industrial farms, their version of free-range is likely quite different from mine. Indeed, the only official definition of free range that I could find from the USDA was "poultry has been allowed access to the outside." Having access to the outside is different from actually being out there.

Because I live in farm country, I handle this by going directly to farmers I know to buy an animal they've raised personally in small flocks. In an urban center, you could find ways of doing this by contacting local CSA programs, food co-ops, health food stores, a trusted butcher, or talking to someone who's involved in the local food scene, i.e. a vendor at a farmer's market.

If you're buying a Thanksgiving turkey, choose organic
Help stop the rise of antibiotic resistance by buying a bird that's been raised drug-free.

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