Grocery shopping for Thanksgiving can be overwhelming. When it comes to turkey, you’ll need to figure out how big the bird should be, sift through a slew of product labels and brands, and try to stay within your budget.
Here’s why it’s worth spending a little more time and maybe a little more money to purchase a turkey raised without overusing antibiotics.
Antibiotic resistance is a global public health crisis. Whenever antibiotics are used, and especially when they are overused, bacteria adapt and develop resistance. Multi-drug-resistant bacteria, which can cause dangerous and even deadly infections in humans, are becoming more common. As resistant bacteria spread, antibiotics lose effectiveness, which can complicate medical procedures like cancer chemotherapy and surgeries by increasing infection risk. Despite the critical importance of antibiotics to human health, nearly two thirds of the medically important antibiotics sold in the United States go to meat production. These miracle drugs should only be used to treat sick animals, but many industrial farms overuse antibiotics to compensate for an increased risk of disease caused by unsanitary, overcrowded, and stressful living conditions.
Industrial turkey production is the most intensive user of antibiotics. In 2020, turkey producers purchased more medically important antibiotics per pound of meat produced than any other major sector of the meat industry. According to the Food and Drug Administration, turkey was the only major meat production sector for which antibiotic sales increased from 2019-2020, the most recent years for which data is available.
Research shows that meat raised without antibiotics is less likely to harbor drug-resistant bacteria: For example, a 2019 study found that conventionally raised poultry harbored nearly twice as much multidrug-resistant Salmonella as meat from poultry raised without antibiotics.
Now that you understand the problem, here’s what you can do to contribute to the solution. Refer to the labeling guide in our recent report, Superbugs in Stock, to choose a turkey with a label indicating that it’s been raised without antibiotic overuse. The ubiquity of Thanksgiving turkey presents an opportunity to spread the word, so encourage your friends and family to also purchase turkey produced without antibiotic overuse. If you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner, let your guests know why you’re serving turkey that’s been raised responsibly. Meat is often on the menu for winter holidays as well, so use Thanksgiving to start a trend of buying meat raised without overusing antibiotics.
 These figures were determined by dividing the weight of medically important antibiotics sold to each major meat sector in 2020 by the corresponding gross production weight of that meat in the U.S. in 2020. The data was sourced from a USDA report on chicken and poultry production, another USDA report on beef and swine production and an FDA report on veterinary antibiotic sales.
Public Health Campaigns, Associate, PIRG
Louis works on research, writing and coalition building for PIRG's public health campaigns. Louis lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, and loves birding across New England, choral singing (especially Dvořák) and watching the Red Sox.
Director, Public Health Campaigns, PIRG
Matt directs PIRG's public health campaigns, including campaigns to address the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant infections by stopping the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture, and to reverse the alarming increase in teen nicotine addiction by banning tobacco products marketed to kids. Matt is an avid outdoorsman and loves to play the drums and harmonica.