The turkey ranch in Sonora is where Diestel keeps its pasture-raised birds. Jeanne Cooper

Popular Diestel Turkey Sold at Whole Foods Tests Positive for FDA-Prohibited Drugs

By Katherine Paul

Diestel Turkey, sold by Whole Foods and other retailers at premium prices, says on its website that its "animals are never given hormones, antibiotics or growth stimulants."

But Diestel Turkey samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggest otherwise, leading consumers to wonder: Can these companies be trusted?

According to testing conducted under the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) National Residue Program, samples of Diestel Turkey products tested positive for numerous drug and antibiotic residues.

One of those drugs, chloramphenicol, is strictly prohibited by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in food production because it's known to have "severe toxic effects in humans including bone marrow suppression or aplastic anemia in susceptible individuals."

According to an amended complaint filed Nov. 13, against Diestel Turkey Ranch, the FSIS inspected Diestel turkeys on four dates in 2015 and 2016, and reported, in addition to chloramphenicol, residues of antibiotics important for human use, veterinary antibiotics, a hormone and other pharmaceuticals.

Animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) brought the action against the privately held Sonora, California, turkey producer in the Superior Court of California. DxE is suing Diestel for falsely advertising its turkey products as hormone- and antibiotic-free, and for deceiving consumers about how the company's birds are raised and treated.

According to the lawsuit, Diestel turkey products tested by the USDA were positive for residues of:

• Ketamine, a narcotic. The Drug Enforcement Agency describes ketamine as "a dissociative anesthetic that has some hallucinogenic effects." Ketamine's street names include Special K, Cat Tranquilizer, and Cat Valium, the latter two referencing its veterinary uses, and it is commonly referred to as a club drug because it is used illegally at dance clubs and raves. The FDA has not approved the use of ketamine in poultry.

• Amikacin, an antibiotic for human use that the FDA considers important for humans

• Spectinomycin, also an antibiotic for human use

• Hygromycin, an antibiotic for veterinary use

• Ipronidazole, also a veterinary pharmaceutical

• Melengestrol acetate, also known as MGA, a synthetic hormone

• Sulfanitran, an antibacterial drug feed additive

Kim Richman of Richman Law Group, which represents DxE, said that to the best of his knowledge, the USDA did not test any certified organic Diestel Turkey samples. "Since organic meat goes through a certification process, the end product is not tested. It appears that the National Residue Program samples only non-organic meat and poultry," Richman said.

This isn't the first time some of these drugs, including chloramphenicol and ketamine, have been found in poultry. As reported by Bloomberg on June 22, the Organic Consumers Association, Friends of the Earth and Center for Food Safety sued Sanderson Farms, the third largest poultry producer in the U.S., for advertising its chicken as "100% natural" even though USDA testing reported finding drug residues in Sanderson chicken samples.

Consumers aren't pleased to learn that factory farm poultry brands mislead them. But they aren't necessarily surprised either.

But it's a whole different story when the brands they thought they could trust turn out to be making false claims, too.

Are Diestel and Whole Foods misleading consumers?

Producers like Diestel, and retailers like Whole Foods, know consumers are willing to pay a premium for hormone-free, antibiotic-free turkeys from farms that have high animal-welfare standards.

But what happens when companies make claims that don't live up to consumer expectations?

Diestel Turkey claims its birds live idyllic lives. On its website, the company says:

"All of our whole-body Diestel turkeys are raised under our strict standards. We support our turkeys with a healthy environment, fresh mountain water, and the clean air from the Sierra Nevada Foothills. Our feed never contains fillers, our birds are never given growth stimulants or antibiotics, and we never make compromises when it comes to the quality of the feed."

Whole Foods gives Diestel Turkey its 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating standard, a rating intended to differentiate factory farm meat from pasture-raised. The rating not only sets high standards for "the comfort, physical safety and health of the animals," but also prohibits the use of hormones and antibiotics.

The USDA testing suggests that Diestel is deceiving consumers about the use of antibiotics and other drugs on its farms. A nine-month investigation of Diestel Turkey Ranch by DxE suggests Diestel also deceives consumers not only about the use of antibiotics and hormones, but also about how the turkeys it sells are treated before being slaughtered for meat.

On its website, Diestel says:

"We pay close attention to the health of our birds by spending time with them in the fields, observing their behaviors, and making sure they have the best environment possible."

But according to the complaint DxE filed against Diestel, the turkey producer bases those claims on one "picture-perfect" farm as its "poster child" farm—but raises most of its turkeys elsewhere, under industrial factory farm conditions.

And that picture-perfect farm is rated Step 5, even though most turkeys do not enjoy those Step 5 conditions.

In reality, DxE's investigation found that the vast majority of the turkeys sold by Diestel are raised under very different conditions than those portrayed by the Diestel website. According to the complaint, the DxE investigation found:

• turkeys raised in overcrowded barns

• turkeys found languishing or dead

• turkeys suffering from excessive confinement

• turkeys trapped in feces that covered much of the barn floor, up to one-half foot deep

• turkeys suffering from swollen-shut eyes, swollen nostrils, open wounds, and/or bruises

• turkeys missing large patches of feathers as a result of pecking one another and/or defeathering from extreme stress

• turkeys routinely subject to debeaking and/or beak-trimming

• turkeys laboring to breathe in an enclosed barn environment dense with ammonia and particles of dried feces and feathers

• as many as seven percent of birds in a barn dying in a single week

What's a consumer to do? We've put together this Holiday Turkey Buying Guide that steers consumers in the direction of reliable sources of honestly marketed turkeys.

And as always, we recommend consumers take advertising and marketing claims with a grain of salt, until those claims can be verified by a third party.

In the meantime, we're asking consumers to ask Whole Foods to stop selling Diestel Turkey products.

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association.

Show Comments ()
Solar shade canopies. University of Hawaii

This College Could Become the First 100% Renewable Campus in U.S.

As a growing number of U.S. cities make pledges towards 100 percent renewables, it's easy to forget that the entire state of Hawaii set this important benchmark three years ago when it mandated that all of its electricity must come from renewable sources no later than 2045.

To help the Aloha State meet this ambitious commitment, in 2015, the University of Hawaii (UH) and the Hawaiian Legislature set a collective goal for the university system to be "net-zero" by Jan. 1, 2035, which means the total amount of energy consumed is equal to the amount of renewable energy created.

Keep reading... Show less

Silver Nanoparticles in Clothing Wash Out, May Be Toxic

By Sukalyan Sengupta and Tabish Nawaz

Humans have known since ancient times that silver kills or stops the growth of many microorganisms. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, is said to have used silver preparations for treating ulcers and healing wounds. Until the introduction of antibiotics in the 1940s, colloidal silver (tiny particles suspended in a liquid) was a mainstay for treating burns, infected wounds and ulcers. Silver is still used today in wound dressings, in creams and as a coating on medical devices.

Keep reading... Show less
4.4 million premature air pollution deaths could be avoided in Kolkata if emissions are reduced swiftly this century. M M / CC BY-SA 2.0

Study Finds Timely Emissions Reductions Could Prevent 153 Million Air Pollution Deaths This Century

One of the roadblocks to swift action on climate change is the human brain's tendency to focus on threats and stimuli that are an obvious and noticeable part of their everyday lives, rather than an abstract and future problem, as Amit Dhir explained in The Decision Lab.

Now, a study published in Nature Climate Change Monday shows that acting quickly to curb greenhouse gas emissions would also reduce the air pollution that is already a major urban killer, thereby saving millions of lives within the next 40 years.

Keep reading... Show less
Lands threatened by BLM's March 2018 sale include Hatch Point. Neal Clark / SUWA

Trump Administration Sells Oil and Gas Leases Near Utah National Monuments

The Interior Department on Tuesday is auctioning off 32 parcels of public lands in southeastern Utah for oil and gas development.

The Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) lease sale includes more than 51,000 acres of land near Bears Ears—the national monument significantly scaled back by the Trump administration last year—as well as the Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients monuments.

Keep reading... Show less
Katharine Hayhoe talks climate communication hacks at the Natural Products Expo West Convention. Climate Collaborative

Katharine Hayhoe Reveals Surprising Ways to Talk About Climate Change

By Katie O'Reilly

Katharine Hayhoe isn't your typical atmospheric scientist. Throughout her career, the evangelical Christian and daughter of missionaries has had to convince many (including her pastor husband) that science and religion need not be at odds when it comes to climate change. Hayhoe, who directs Texas Tech's University's Climate Science Center, is CEO of ATMOS Research, a scientific consulting company, and produces the PBS Kids' web series Global Weirding, rose to national prominence in early 2012 after then-presidential candidate Newt Gingrich dropped her chapter from a book he was editing about the environment. The reason? Hayhoe's arguments affirmed that climate change was no liberal hoax. The Toronto native attracted the fury of Rush Limbaugh, who encouraged his listeners to harass her.

Keep reading... Show less
Rising Tide NA / Twitter

Kinder Morgan Pipeline Protest Grows: Arrests Include a Greenpeace Founder, Juno-Nominated Grandfather

By Andy Rowell

Just because you get older, it doesn't mean you cannot stop taking action for what you believe in. And Monday was a case in point. Two seventy-year-olds, still putting their bodies on the line for environmental justice and indigenous rights.

Early Monday morning, the first seventy-year-old, a grandfather of two, and former nominee for Canada's Juno musical award, slipped into Kinder Morgan's compound at one of its sites for the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline and scaled a tree and then erected a mid-air platform with a hammock up in the air.

Keep reading... Show less

The Grapes of Trash

By Marlene Cimons

German monk and theologian Martin Luther probably said it best: "Beer is made by men, wine by God." It's true—the world loves its wine. Americans, in fact, downed close to a billion gallons of it in 2016. But winemakers create a lot of waste when they produce all that vino, most of it in seeds, stalks and skins.

Keep reading... Show less

Why Mike Pompeo Could Be Even Worse for the Environment Than Rex Tillerson

By Kelle Louaillier

As Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson was one of the most blatant revolving-door cases in the Trump administration and a clear sign that Trump's government was of, by and for the fossil fuel industry. But make no mistake: Mike Pompeo could be far worse.

Keep reading... Show less


The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!