Turkey: Dangers Inherent in Farm-Raised Birds

Turkey: Dangers Inherent in Farm-Raised Birds

With turkey being the centerpiece of any Thanksgiving feast, it is important to choose a flavorful bird that is also good for your and your family’s health. Many people assume that the turkeys they buy in the grocery store are plenty nutritious. However, did you know that they actually are not as healthy as one might think? Let’s talk turkey and address some of the dangers inherent in many farm-raised birds.

Nearly 99 percent of the turkeys raised and sold in the United States are referred to as Broad-breasted White birds, which are also known as the “Large White.” They are also called factory farm and industrial turkeys, due to the tightly confined factory farm conditions in which they are raised. There are a number of problems encountered with Broad-breasted White turkeys.

For starters, these birds are nearly (99 percent) genetically identical, which means they already are susceptible and highly prone to disease. Additionally, these birds are raised in extremely crowded, confined conditions and fed grain as well as supplements rather than the grubs, bugs, and grasses they would normally eat. The birds are fed this diet so they develop the high-demand large, white breasts, which are actually so abnormally large that the birds cannot naturally reproduce.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, humans must artificially inseminate factory farm turkeys or they will quickly become extinct. If this is not enough, industrial turkeys, which are grown on factory farms, are also injected with saline solution and vegetable oils to help improve the taste, as well as the texture, of the meat. Moreover, they are also fed low doses of antibiotics on a regular basis, and at times, injected with high doses, even if they are not sick.

What is so bad about giving turkeys antibiotics? For more than 20 years, the subtherapeutic use of antibiotics (low-level doses of antibiotics) on healthy flocks of industrial turkeys have been justified as a means of preventing infection and enhancing growth. The therapeutic use of antibiotics has been and continues to be used to treat bacterial infections.

Bacteria are becoming antibiotic-resistant due to the overuse of antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance results when the use of an antibiotic kills off vulnerable bacteria but leaves behind certain cultures that were able to combat the drug. These resistant bacteria are able to multiply, which creates a mutated form or “super bug” that drugs cannot kill. This same process also occurs in humans and gives birth to “super bug” bacteria such as MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).

How does antibiotic resistance in poultry affect people? Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of fluoroquinolone drugs in 2005, poultry growers continue to use fluoroquinolone drugs to keep chickens and turkeys from dying from Escherichia coli (E. coli) infection, which is a disease that can be contracted from their own droppings. While the drug does cure the E. coli bacteria in the poultry, another kind of bacterium, called Campylobacter, built up resistance to these drugs. The Campylobacter bacterium causes campylobacter enteritis, which is an infection of the small intestine.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the use of fluoroquinolones in farm animals has led to an increase in resistance in Campylobacter infecting humans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that there are two to four million Campylobacter infections per year, resulting in as many as 250 deaths each year in the United States. Furthermore, about one in 1,000 Campylobacter infections results in Guillan-Barre syndrome, which is a disease that can cause paralysis.

Heritage turkeys are the ancestors of the common Broad-breasted White industrial farm breed of turkey that are commonly sold in supermarkets. Most breeds of Heritage turkey were developed in the United States and Europe over hundreds of years. Heritage turkeys cost more to raise than Broad-breasted White turkeys that grow to an average of 32 pounds over 18 weeks. Whereas Heritage turkeys take anywhere from 24-30 weeks to reach their optimal market weight. However, Heritage breeds are said to be well worth the wait. In fact, Heritage turkeys are quickly gaining in the turkey marketplace due to their superior flavor and biological diversity.

Why invest in an organic, free-range, or Heritage turkey? Not only are there a number of health benefits associated with Heritage turkeys, they could also make a great holiday gift. Moreover, it may pave the way to healthier eating habits for you and them. They are available in most stores and can be ordered online.

Blog by Leigh Haugh

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