Talking Turkey: Food Safety, Antibiotics, and Proselytizing

September 2013 Update:  This YouTube clip demonstrates what I describe below about talking to turkeys. We boys did a little old-time preaching. The guy on the clip lays out some “cruel humor” to the doomed birds.

Talking with Turkeys

I grew up on a pig and cattle farm, and the few chickens in the shed did not make us a poultry business. Because we ended our small egg-laying operation before I was out of elementary school, my images are few: walking into the haze, dust, and floating feathers to collect warm eggs from the nests; watching dad rig up patchwork fencing to keep chickens in and foxes out; fearing and anticipating the typical butchering day with chopping block, headless birds, and smelly steamed feathers.

One other disclosure before delving into the new turkey meat controversy: Even though I hired out for farm work on several neighbor farms, I never had the joy of working at one of the numerous large turkey operations in our part of the state. The closest I came was one evening when some of us teenagers were driving the gravel roads, and we stopped along a large pen where hundreds of turkeys were enjoying the night air. We found that if you pitch your voice just right and start chattering nonsense like a B-grade televangelist, the turkeys would gather and gobble along like an adoring audience. We were tempted to pass the hat and ask them for money.

Aside from what appears at Thanksgiving feasts and in footlong Subway sandwiches, I don’t see turkeys close up, so I’m not sure what to make of the latest headlines claiming that “dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria has been found in ground turkey on U.S. grocery shelves.” These three links give a basic overview: 

This news organization reports about the news release coming from a consumer watchdog group that says affected turkey has been located in 21 states.

This article covers the basic claim and then the responses from the National Turkey Federation and the American Meat Institute.

And this blog from Dr. Scott Hurd regularly addresses issues concerning the livestock industry and antibiotic use.

The watchdog groups talk of food safety and dangerous organisms resulting from the widespread use of antibiotics. The meat producers point out that claims are often sensationalized and based on small samples. An objective person could spend many hours researching the issue, but it’s not always easy to sort out the facts and common sense from the turkey talk. When it comes to an issue like widespread antibiotic use, I sometimes feel as if I’m in the middle of a flock of turkeys–heads up, throats vibrating, and all gobbling at once.   
by dan gogerty (photo from ars/usda)

Related CAST Publication:  The Direct Relationship between Animal Health and Food Safety Outcomes

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