Turkey Is Bad on Antibiotics—Pork and Beef, Even Worse
By David Wallinga, MD
Heading into the holidays, many of our families are planning meals centered around a delicious turkey, ham or brisket. But a new analysis from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and our partners at Food Animal Concerns Trust shows that our families' health is at significant risk from how these American meats are typically produced.
Just a week before Thanksgiving, there's news that an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella, linked to raw turkey, is still spreading; it has sickened 164 people thus far, killing one. Each year, at least 2 million Americans suffer infections caused by drug-resistant bacteria, resulting in more than 23,000 deaths. Those numbers are rising according to experts.
What's that got to do with your holiday dinner planning? Plenty, says our new analysis, released just in time for Antibiotic Awareness Week.
While turkeys are given antibiotics more intensively than other livestock in the U.S., the size of the industry is much smaller than beef and pork—making those two the most problematic in terms of antibiotic consumption.
The conventional U.S. livestock industry—in particular its beef, pork and turkey sectors—raises animals with very intensive use of antibiotics that are also important to human medicine ("medically important"). Most of these precious medicines are fed to groups of animals that aren't sick, a practice commonly although inappropriately used to compensate for stressful and unsanitary living conditions. This is unnecessary—several European countries ended uses in healthy animals years ago, and the European Parliament voted last month to ban them. And it is an important driver of the worsening antibiotic resistance crisis. The World Health Organization warns that if we want antibiotics to remain useful for treating people when they get sick, we simply must use them better and more responsibly.
Fittingly, U.S. consumers increasingly show a preference for buying poultry and meat products produced with fewer or no antibiotics. But our new analysis finds that the conventional U.S. meat industry remains a stubbornly high user of antibiotics. Specifically, we find:
- Livestock consumption of medically important antibiotics in the U.S. has increased in intensity since 2009—meaning we're still using more of these drugs per kilogram of meat than we did then. That's in contrast to human medicine, where we saw a decline and then plateau in the same time period, suggesting the medical community is taking expert warnings of the looming resistance crisis more seriously than the meat industry.
- It's also a striking contrast to Europe, as the U.S. livestock industry is using medically important drugs almost twice as intensively (95 percent more) than the industries in 30 European countries, collectively. And, in the case of pig and cattle production, the U.S. industries are using these precious antibiotics far more intensively than their counterparts in France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Denmark, all of which are major livestock producers—comparable in size to major livestock-producing states in the U.S..
The good news is there's a lot of room for quick improvement. We've seen that with the right leadership, enormous changes have happened quite rapidly. The U.S. chicken industry is a one example. In just a few years, close to half the industry (and 14 of the top 25 U.S. restaurant chains serving chicken) has made some commitment to curbing unnecessary antibiotics in chicken production, by our estimates.
The United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands also cleaned up their livestock industries in a very short time frame. They reduced the intensity of antibiotics consumed in in livestock production by 34 percent, 47 percent and 64 percent, respectively, between 2010 and 2016. Our analysis makes clear that right now, the conventional cattle, pig and turkey industries in the U.S. just don't measure up.
Who among us has not relied on antibiotics? It's in all of our best interest to keep them working. So as families sit down together to enjoy a meal this holiday season, let's hope the American beef, pork and turkey industries are thinking hard about how better to protect the consumers who buy their products.
David Wallinga is a physician with more than 20 years of experience in writing, policy and advocacy at the intersection of food, nutrition, sustainability and public health.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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