Cargill, one of the nation's leading turkey producers, has announced that it will phase out the use of growth-promoting antibiotics in its Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms turkeys by Thanksgiving. By the end of 2015, all of the company's birds should be free of antibiotics, with the exception of antibiotics used for illnesses and disease prevention.
The Minnetonka-based company is the country's first major turkey producer to eliminate the use of growth-promoting antibiotics.
Still, there's concern over whether the antibiotics will actually be phased out, or if growth-promoting antibiotics will simply be labeled as disease-preventing antibiotics, Food Safety News reports.
Cargill's decision was based on consumer research suggesting that 62 percent of people would be "very, or extremely interested in purchasing turkey that has not received growth stimulants," the company said in a press release.
Costs will remain the same once antibiotics are phased out.
"We believe ending the use of antibiotics to promote growth in turkeys is an important step that provides consumers with nutritious and affordable options," Ruth Kimmelshue, president of the Cargill Turkey & Cooked Meats business said in the release.
Growth-promoting antibiotics are known to cause animals to gain up to 3 percent more weight than they would normally gain, according to PBS Frontline. And in the livestock game, faster growth means more money. The problem is that when the same antibiotics used to treat human diseases are given to animals, the animals often become resistant to the antibiotics. If humans eat improperly cooked antibiotic-resistant meat and become ill, antibiotic treatment may prove ineffective.
In 2011, a national salmonella outbreak that poisoned 136 people, landing 37 in the hospital and killing one, was traced back to Cargill's ground turkey. The outbreak lasted seven months and led to the largest Class 1 recall in U.S. history. The salmonella outbreak was reported on July 29, 2011, but Cargill waited to announce a recall until August 3, when they learned someone had died from the contaminated meat, Food Safety News reports.
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