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Missouri Cooks Turn to "Natural" Turkey for Thanksgiving

November 15, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Missouri residents looking for a healthy Thanksgiving this year may be steering clear of turkeys grown with antibiotics. That's because leading medical groups have expressed concern that the overuse of antibiotics in animal production is creating new strains of bacteria that, in people, are difficult to treat.

Bob Martin with the Pew Environment Group directed a two-and-a-half year study on food animal production.

"Our number one public health recommendation was to eliminate the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in food animal production."

Martin says at least 70 percent of the antibiotics purchased in the United States are used on healthy animals to prevent illness due to overcrowding and poor waste management.

Some shoppers complain that "natural" turkeys are too expensive. But Martin says using antibiotics in farm animal production costs us all indirectly - for example, when people have to stay longer in hospitals for hard-to-treat infections.

"It's been estimated by a group called the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics in Cook County hospitals, that that costs $26 billion a year in added health care costs."

Besides serving a naturally raised turkey this Thanksgiving, Martin also suggests buying locally grown produce, which is getting easier to find in many stores.

"Wal-Mart, for example, has recently announced that in the coming years - and I think they're fairly aggressive about this - they're going to try to locally source all their produce."

Some meat industry experts argue there's not enough evidence that antibiotics in animals cause health problems in humans. Still, many people are choosing to buy only free-range, antibiotic-free turkeys for this Thanksgiving dinner.

Heather Claybrook/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - MO