National Turkey Federation Responds to EWG Report on Antibiotics

April 16, 2013
Washington, DC

The Turkey Industry Disputes Misleading Claims Made in Report

The National Turkey Federation (NTF) today said a report issued by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) about antibiotics use in meat and poultry production, loosely based on 2011 data from the Food and Drug Administration’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS), contained no new research or findings and selectively presented NARMS and other food safety data to create an inaccurate impression about food safety.       

Joel Brandenberger, President of NTF, strongly disputed claims made in the report: “The report’s authors cherry picked the data and then packaged it in a way that is misleading, and needlessly frightening to consumers.”

Brandenberger identified the report’s two biggest flaws:  1) Failing to acknowledge the dramatic overall reduction in pathogens on poultry and meat; 2) Failing to place NARMS findings in their appropriate context.

“The turkey industry is committed to ensuring all its products are safe and nutritious, which is why it has been extremely successful at reducing the incidence of all Salmonella—resistant or not—in its products.  EWG failed to mention the findings of federal poultry inspectors who test tens of thousands ground turkey samples and whole turkey annually for the presence of Salmonella.  Those tests show nearly 90 percent of the ground turkey samples, and 97 percent of the whole turkey samples areSalmonella-free.”

“By comparison, NARMS samples slightly more than 100 retail packages of ground turkey per month.  NARMS is a valuable program, but it is important to recognize its limitations as a gauge of food safety or public health.”

Antibiotics have been safely used in animal agriculture for half a century to treat and control disease, and improve overall health. They are an important reason the U.S. food supply is one of the highest quality, safest, and most affordable in the world.  Brandenberger said, “The fact is that animals, like humans, get sick.  Antibiotics are safely and carefully administered to restore health, and to prevent and control illness.” 

The report repeatedly cited alleged instances of antibiotics misuse, but disregarded FDA’s own conclusion that judicious use of approved antibiotics in animal agriculture does not pose a risk to animals or people. The National Research Council and World Health Organization—two of the world’s premier scientific bodies—stated that antibiotic use in animal production is not an imminent health threat.  Moreover, there is no scientific consensus that antibiotic use in animals is connected to antibiotic resistance in human medicine.

The report made numerous links to the presence of naturally occurring bacteria in the environment such as Staphylococcus aureus—commonly found on human hands—to human health problems.  EWG failed to mention that resistance in Salmonella from humans is declining—from about 18 percent resistant in 1996 to approximately 10 percent resistance in 2010. 

The report recommended buying meat raised without antibiotics, but scientists agree there will always be a subset of bacteria that carry resistant traits—it’s how they survive. Past experience has shown the elimination of growth promotion claims from antimicrobial labels in Denmark, has not resulted in clear improvements in various antimicrobial resistance or health metrics.

Monitoring antibiotics residues is an important part of antibiotic safety, and the turkey industry works hard to ensure that violative residues are not present. The Food Safety and Inspection Service closely monitors residues of antibiotics and other medications, sampling flocks of turkeys at random to test for residues.  Animals that test positive for violative residues cannot go into the food supply. For more than a decade, the turkey industry has been 100 percent compliant with no violative antibiotic residues found. The report again failed to mention any of these facts, and instead relied on simplistic anecdotes—not scientific evidence or government practices—to tell a misguided story.

Brandenberger concluded, “EWG got one thing right: safe handling and thoroughly cooking meat will ensure food safety.  Sadly, we cannot agree with anything else in this report.  Our members take food safety very seriously, and have led the development of cutting-edge food safety systems and technologies to deliver safe, quality products to our customers.  It’s unfortunate this report failed to take any of that into account.”

NTF is the national advocate for all segments of the $29.5 billion turkey industry—providing services and conducting activities to increase demand and raise awareness for its members' products, while strengthening their ability to profitably and safely deliver wholesome, high-quality, and nutritious food to consumers worldwide.  Visit our website on, ‘follow us’ on Twitter and ‘like us’ on Facebook.