National Turkey Federation refutes alarmist 'study' on ground turkey

Published on: Apr 30, 2013
The National Turkey Federation (NTF) says it strongly disputes the misleading findings of a Consumer Reports article about ground turkey, which makes a number of alarming claims based on an extremely small sampling of ground turkey products.

"Consumer Reports had the opportunity to foster a serious, thoughtful discussion about food safety, but instead it chose to sensationalize findings and mislead people," said NTF President Joel Brandenberger.

NTF refuted numerous misleading claims, and challenges the methodology in the report, from which essentially all the "findings" are obtained. To help better educate consumers about ground turkey, here are some important facts:

  • The magazine reported high levels of certain pathogens on the samples tested, but it is important to note that the two most prevalent, Enterococcus and generic E.coli, are not considered sources of foodborne illness.
  • By contrast, for the two pathogens of public health concern—Campylobacter and Salmonella—the magazine found almost no prevalence (5 percent for Salmonella and zero Campylobacter).  This is borne out by more extensive government testing, which finds almost 90 percent of all ground turkey and 97 percent of whole turkeys are Salmonella-free.  While the turkey industry strives to control all bacteria on its products, it focuses primarily on those bacteria that present the greatest threat to human health.
  • The article is misleading about the significance of its antibiotic findings.  One of the antibiotics for which it tested (ciprofloxacin) has not been used in poultry production for almost eight years, meaning resistance is highly unlikely to be from farm-animal use, and two other drug classes (penicillin and cephalosporin) are used infrequently in animal agriculture.  The fourth drug class tested by Consumer Reports, tetracycline, is used in animal agriculture, but is a largely insignificant antibiotic in human medicine, comprising only four percent of all antibiotics prescribed by physicians.
  • The article stated three samples contained methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureas (MRSA).  Understandably, this is cause for concern, but the article fails to put MRSA and E.coli in context.  These bacteria are ubiquitous in the environment, and are even present on our hands and in our bodies.  

NTF Vice President of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Lisa Picard, said, "Enterococcus and generic E.coli are everywhere, and there is more than one way they can wind up on food animals. In fact, it's so common in the environment, studies have shown that generic E.coli and MRSA can even be found on about 20 percent of computer keyboards."

NTF noted the last week's statement of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates antibiotic use in animals, "We believe that is inaccurate and alarmist to define bacteria resistant to one, or even a few, antimicrobials as 'superbugs' if these same bacteria are still treatable by other commonly used antibiotics. This is especially misleading when speaking of bacteria that do not cause foodborne disease and have natural resistances, such as Enterococcus."  

The magazine's parent company believes the FDA should ban all antibiotics in animal production except to treat illness, to which Picard said, "Animals, just like people, sometimes get sick. The turkey industry judiciously uses antibiotics under strict guidelines set by federal law to restore health, and to treat and control disease. This makes good sense for the turkey's health and lowers production costs, something very important to budget-conscious consumers. Proper animal health practices are an important reason the U.S. food supply is one of the highest quality, safest, and most affordable in the world."

NTF is the national advocate for all segments of the $29.5 billion turkey industry.