Cargill Inc., one of the nation’s largest turkey producers, has taken a step toward removing growth-promoting antibiotics in its birds.
The Minnetonka-based agribusiness giant said this week that its Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms brands are the first major turkey brands to remove growth-promoting antibiotics.
Concern has mounted in recent years over animal antibiotic use and its effects on humans.
Antibiotics are commonly used in animal feed, but not just for health reasons. Producers of turkeys, pork and other food animals have used antibiotics to boost growth.
Over time, people have become more resistant to antibiotics, a potential public health issue. And several studies indicate that the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals is linked to human antibiotic resistance.
Cargill’s move toward less antibiotic use is so far limited to whole turkeys, a small part of the overall turkey market. Cargill says all turkeys in its production system are expected to be free of antibiotics for growth purposes by the end of 2015.
“Consumer research tells us people are more interested than ever in where their food comes from and how it is produced,” Ruth Kimmelshue, president of Cargill’s turkey and cooked meats business, said in a statement.
“We believe ending the use of antibiotics to promote growth in turkeys is an important step.”
Cargill will still use antibiotics for illness treatment in turkeys and for disease prevention. The latter use makes some critics wary because it means antibiotics are widely administered to birds.
Cargill has seen fallout from antibiotics resistance firsthand.
In 2011, the company recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey — the largest U.S. poultry recall ever — after the spread of an antibiotic-resistant strain of Salmonella Heidelberg was linked to its product. Nationwide, 136 people were sickened and one person died.