As "Turkey Day" approaches, animal lovers cringe, food safety advocates become vigilante and turkey producers hope you have a short memory. They hope you have forgotten that avian flu and its prevention killed so many turkeys in 2015--at least 7.5 million--that turkey giant Jennie-O laid off 233 workers. They hope you have forgotten that scientists at the Bloomberg School's Center for a Livable Future and Arizona State's Biodesign Institute found Tylenol, Benadryl, caffeine, statins and Prozac in feather meal samples that included U.S. turkeys--"a surprisingly broad spectrum of prescription and over-the-counter drugs," said study co-author Rolf Halden of Arizona State University. And finally, Butterball hopes you have forgotten that four of its employees were convicted of sickening animal cruelty and veterinarian Dr. Sarah Mason admits tipping Butterball off about an imminent raid by Hoke County detectives to investigate such humane abuses.
Aware of humane and food safety issues, many buyers are looking to labels to help them in buying their bird. Unfortunately, turkeylabels can deceive and even lie. For example "cage free" and "hormone free" are meaningless since cages and hormones are not used in turkey production anyway. Nor does "young" mean anything since all turkeys are young at the time of slaughter--they live just a matter of weeks or months.
Still, here are some turkey facts that are definitely not on the label.
Ractopamine is still in use
Hormones may not be used in turkey production but ractopamine, the asthma-like growth enhancer I have reported on for a decade has reported on before, certainly is--and for the same reason: to add muscle weight quickly. Banned in 160 countries and widely viewed as dangerous to animals and humans, ractopamine was approved by the FDA for use in turkey in 2009 under the brand name Topmax. It has never been labeled.
How dangerous is Topmax? This is what its label says. "NOT FOR HUMAN USE. Warning. The active ingredient in Topmax, ractopamine hydrochloride, is a beta-adrenergic agonist. Individuals with cardiovascular disease should exercise special caution to avoid exposure. Not for use in humans. Keep out of the reach of children... When mixing and handling Topmax, use protective clothing, impervious gloves, protective eye wear, and a NIOSH-approved dust mask. Operators should wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling." It adds an 800 number.
Monkeys fed ractopamine in a Canadian study "developed daily tachycardia"-- rapid heart beat. Rats fed ractopamine developed a constellation of birth defects like cleft palate, protruding tongue, short limbs, missing digits, open eyelids and enlarged hearts.
In its new drug application, Elanco, ractopamine's manufacturer, admitted that ractopamine produced "alterations" in turkey meat such as a "mononuclear cell infiltrate and myofiber degeneration," "an increase in the incidence of cysts," and differences, some "significant," in the weight of organs like hearts, kidneys and livers. Yum.
Antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria are found in turkey
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