A couple of months ago I got an email that left me slightly confused and also intrigued. The email was an invitation to join a small group of bloggers from around the country to travel to Virginia and visit a Turkey farm. The email was from the marketing company that works with Cargill to promote their Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms brands of turkey. The email mentioned that they were going to be making a big announcement about their turkey and wanted me to be part of it.
I’ll be honest, my first thought was that maybe someone hadn’t done enough research on me and my blog before they invite got sent. I had a pretty good idea that the big announcement would be something about Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms Turkeys being antibiotic free. I figured that the nice people at the marketing company would find out about my open letter to Panera Bread last summer calling out their “antibiotic free chicken” marketing campaign and the ensuing outcry from farmers across the country and before my plane took off I would get an email saying that they were just kidding about wanting me to come.
That didn’t happen and I went to Virginia and visited a turkey farm.
Before I get into the big announcement, and yes it does have to do with going antibiotic free, let me give you a quick photo tour of the turkey farm we visited.
The farm we visited belonged to Glenn Rodes and his family. The farm raises about 280,000 turkeys each year. While the Rodes family sells their birds to Cargill for their Shady Brook Farms’ brand, the farm is very much owned by the family. Glenn’s brother owns a dairy farm right down the road and the family also grows crops and does custom harvesting for other farmers in the area. After seeing all the things that this family has going on I was surprised when Glenn told me that the farm had zero non family employees. In addition to caring for the land and animals in his care, Glenn has a real interest in alternative fuel sources. The farm has installed equipment to help produce biodiesel from crops that they grow on their land. Glenn even has his own YouTube channel that you can check out HERE.
Before we toured the farm we were told the big announcement. Cargill has worked with their Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms turkey farmers to end the use of all growth promoting antibiotics. Some of their farms have already stopped using antibiotics in this way and in 2015 the rest of their farms will join this new program.
This announcement left me with several questions and I’ll admit that I was very skeptical. I had a lot of questions! There wasn’t a question I asked that they didn’t answer. Here is what I learned.
- Currently the more common antibiotics used as growth promoters in turkeys are part of the Tetracycline family. While these antibiotics are not the type that doctors rely on for humans, they do have uses in human medicine. When I was a teeenager I had horrible acne, I was on a low dose of tetracycline for years to try and combat my acne. While I suspect that using low dose antibiotics in humans like I was prescribed has more to do with creating antibiotic resistance than feeding turkeys the medicine, it’s going to take changes for all of us to combat this problem.
- While Cargill does seem to be taking initiative early, the FDA has taken steps to phase out the use of growth promoting antibiotics that have use in human medicine by 2016. (Read more here.)
- The farms are not going completely antibiotic free. I believe that it is wrong to expect farmers to not use antibiotics when they have sick animals. Thankfully, it seems that Cargill agrees. Until humans are willing to stop taking antibiotics for their illnesses, let’s not force our animals to. These farms will still be allowed to use antibiotics for sick birds. Of course any birds that are treated with antibiotics will not be sold for food until they have passed the established withdrawal time for the medicine they were given. This is the case with all milk, meat, eggs and so on.
- I assumed that this new policy that Cargill was enacting would result in a price hike for customers at the grocery store so I asked just how many more days it would take for turkeys to reach slaughter weight without the use of drugs. Although I didn’t get a specific answer, it sounds like it is a minimal amount of extra time, we were talking days, not weeks.
- My next question was how much of a premium would be added on to the cost of these turkeys since they were going to be raised a little different than other birds. Here is where I was pleasantly surprised! The Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms turkeys you find in the store will not be going up in cost to reflect this change in farming practices. The company is committed to keeping their products affordable for all people, regardless of the practices they change on farm.
- Cargill is also backing up their claims with more than just label claims and marketing, unlike other companies we may know, I’m looking at you Lifeway Kefir! They are going to be USDA Process Verified, ensuring that you’re getting exactly what you think you’re getting.
I haven’t done a complete 180 on hating fear based marketing, I promise. Knowing that it is illegal to give poultry hormones, it still bothers me that brands tout that they are “Hormone and Steroid free*. However after a recent trip to the grocery store I decided to cut them some slack when I discovered that there wasn’t a single brand of turkey or chicken that did not contain this little marketing gimmick on it’s label. Until we have better regulation of marketing clams, that’s just not a fight that we will win.
I’m glad that Cargill has decided to be proactive on this front. While farmers may bristle at the notion that agriculture is responsible in creating “super bugs” we cannot stick our heads in the sand. If stopping the use of antibiotics in this fashion will in any way help to slow the rate at which multi-drug resistant bacteria is growing, it’s our responsibility to do so just as it is the responsibility of human physicians to be smarter about prescribing antibiotics.
Now on a lighter note, you know what goes great with turkey? Butter. It’s all about that baste.
Oh and if you’ve heard some of the foolishness that the FoodBabe has been spouting about Turkeys and something called “Ractopamine” take a minute to read this blog from an actual turkey farmer. She knows a lot more that a woman who doesn’t even science.