Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Back to Opinion

Watching What We Eat

Dangerous Bird? What could be more wholesome than a turkey at Thanksgiving? Studies say antibiotics could make them dangerous. Image by getty images

The Thanksgiving turkey leftovers are finished or in the freezer, but a central question remains: Were you eating poultry that was stuffed not only with fresh herbs and bread crumbs, but also with antibiotics that are proven to be dangerous to humans?

This is no longer an idle threat. Good research shows that up to 80% of all the antibiotics used in this country are given to animals, ostensibly to prevent illness and promote growth, but in fact creating a serious problem in the food supply and putting healthy Americans at risk. The overuse of antibiotics in animal production has led to resistance in humans and then, because nature abhors a vacuum, to the rise of “superbugs” that are even more difficult and costly to treat.

The Food and Drug Administration has been aware of this issue for years, but is too reluctant to impose even meaningful voluntary restrictions. Fortunately, Rep. Louise Slaughter, a Democrat from New York, has been relentless in pushing her Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, which would phase out the nontherapeutic use in livestock of medically important antibiotics in humans. “What we are witnessing is a looming public health crisis that is moving from farms to grocery stores to dinner tables around the country,” Slaughter, the only microbiologist in Congress, said in a statement. “While we’re giving antibiotics to pigs and chickens, we’re allowing people to die.”

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much appetite in Congress to pass the legislation. The Obama administration certainly needs to do more to pursue this issue.

Meanwhile, this is a case where informed consumers don’t have to wait for government regulation to do the wise thing. Since 2009, Empire Kosher Poultry, now the largest producer of kosher chickens and turkeys in the country, has sold poultry that is raised without antibiotics and is fed only a vegetarian diet; other smaller companies are emerging that also sell only kosher pasture-fed, antibiotic-free meat.

An Empire spokesman says that 15 million chickens and turkeys are grown and processed by the company each year. It’s a fraction of all the meat produced nationwide, but it’s still a formidable number, enough to persuade consumers, kosher and not, to take notice. Europe banned farmers from feeding antibiotics to livestock since 2006. Once again, in matters of health, the United States lags behind because of our slavish devotion to eating what’s bad for us.

A message from our editor-in-chief Jodi Rudoren

We're building on 127 years of independent journalism to help you develop deeper connections to what it means to be Jewish today.

With so much at stake for the Jewish people right now — war, rising antisemitism, a high-stakes U.S. presidential election — American Jews depend on the Forward's perspective, integrity and courage.

—  Jodi Rudoren, Editor-in-Chief 

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.