Is Your Thanksgiving Turkey Toxic?

toxins in turkey

Toxins in turkey.

The tradition of carving up a turkey might not yield as much thankfulness after knowing the kind of toxins and infections turkey meat can harbor. And new research is showing that toxins thought to be a thing of the past are still prevalent in turkey.

Turkey research finds several toxins

Research published in the Elsevier Journal Science of the Total Environment by researchers from the University of Kentucky has determined that arsenic and roxarsone are still prevalent among factory farms. The researchers analyzed the litter of three different boiler bird producers and found that between fifteen percent and twenty percent of the litter contained arsenate, along with roxarsone and other toxins.

This of course indicates that the drug roxarsone – a drug used for fattening up chickens and turkeys by depleting a parasite – is either still being fed to birds or the birds are passing the drug’s metabolites through the generations, since it was supposedly discontinued for sale by its manufacturers.

What is roxarsone?

In 2011, the FDA recommended that the drug industry self-regulate itself and voluntarily curtail sales of a drug that was being fed to over two-thirds of all birds. The problem was so concerning that New York Representative Steve Israel introduced HR 1487 to the U.S. congress in 2009, which would have made the sale of roxarsone illegal. The bill never got past committee.

“Nobody should have to wonder if their Thanksgiving turkey is secretly carrying a carcinogen,” commented Rep. Israel in a press release. “Roxarsone is an unnecessary and dangerous arsenical that we don’t need in our food and that we don’t want in our food.”

The arsenate found by the University of Kentucky researchers is a metabolite of arsenic, and this is the primary reason for the FDA’s recommendation and the congressional bill. Arsenic toxicity can lead to skin lesions, kidney damage, diabetes, liver toxicity, memory defects, still birth, cancer, miscarriage, increased preterm births, low blood pressure and others.

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Unfortunately, roxarsone and arsenic are not the only toxins turkey meat may contain. Turkeys are also given other antibiotic growth promoters that help fatten up the birds and prevent infections due to their close living quarters. These include inovocox, diclazuril, salinomycin and others.

Vaccines for turkeys

Inovocox is a vaccine meant to help control the spread of coccidiosis. Diclazuril is an antiparasite drug. Its chemical formula is (+/-)-(4-Chlorphenyl)[2,6-dichlor-4-(4,5-dihydro-3,5-dioxo-as-triazin-2(3H)-yl)phenyl]-acetonitril.

Salinomycin is an antibiotic with the chemical formula (αR,2R,5S,6R)-α-ethyl-6-[(1S,2S,3S,5R)-5-[(2S,5S,7R,9S,10S,12R,15R)-2-[(2R,5R,6S)-5-ethyltetrahydro-5-hydroxy-6-methyl-2H-pyran-2-yl]-15-hydroxy-2,10,12-trimethyl-1,6,8-trioxydispiro[]-pentadec-13-en-9-yl]-2-hydroxy-1,3-dimethyl-4-oxoheptyl]-tetrah. The antimicrobial drug has been shown to produce genetic changes as well.

Just like the arsenic, these chemicals don’t disappear into thin air. They accumulate within the bird’s tissues. And they get passed on to those who eat them.

About 46 million turkeys are raised specifically for Thanksgiving feasts. Most factory birds are fattened up with diets that differ greatly from those offered by nature. They are stacked in cages and many cannot stand up due to their over-fattened bodies and under-exercised legs.

The Food and Drug Administration has banned the use of synthetic hormones in turkey. This doesn’t mean that producers do not use it however, as the FDA relies upon the meat industry to pretty much self-regulate itself.

Side effects of fattening turkeys

Factory farms typically fatten up their turkeys using genetically modified corn and other foods that contain significant pesticide residue. Turkeys accumulate these toxins at significantly higher rates than plants.

In addition, turkey and chickens are often infected with campylobacter or salmonella. Turkeys typically harbor campylobacter in their digestive tracts and many are infected at some point with salmonella. A Consumer Reports study found that 83% of whole broiler chickens purchased across the U.S. were infected with either campylobacter or salmonella, or both.

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According to a 2011 report by the Emerging Pathogens Institute, Salmonella infections are responsible for over a million illnesses a year and over 370 deaths in the U.S. each year. Campylobacter infections are responsible for 845,000 illnesses a year and 76 deaths.

These pathogens are also becoming more deadly because they are becoming increasingly antimicrobial-resistant. This means an infection of one of these is harder to treat because the microorganisms become resistant to conventional medicine’s arsenal of possible treatments.

Just because the bird was given antibiotics doesn’t mean it won’t harbor antimicrobial-resistant campylobacter or salmonella. These drug-resistant microorganisms are now being passed from bird to bird and farm to farm.

Pandora’s pathogenic box is already opened.

Watch out for toxic holiday ornaments too.


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D’Angelo E, Zeigler G, Beck EG, Grove J, Sikora F. Arsenic species in broiler (Gallus gallus domesticus) litter, soils, maize (Zea mays L.), and groundwater from litter-amended fields. Sci Total Environ. 2012 Nov 1;438:286-92.

Conway DP, Mathis GF, Lang M. The use of diclazuril in extended withdrawal anticoccidial programs: 1. Efficacy against Eimeria spp. in broiler chickens in floor pens. Poult Sci. 2002 Mar;81(3):349-52.

Zhang Q, Sahin O, McDermott PF, Payot S. Fitness of antimicrobial-resistant Campylobacter and Salmonella. Microbes Infect. 2006 Jun;8(7):1972-8.

Zhang Q, Lin J, Pereira S. Fluoroquinolone-resistant Campylobacter in animal reservoirs: dynamics of development, resistance mechanisms and ecological fitness. Anim Health Res Rev. 2003 Dec;4(2):63-71.

Batz MB, Hoffmann S, Morris JG. Ranking the Risks: The 10 Pathogen-Food Combinations with the Greatest Burden on Public Health. Emerging Pathogens Institute, 2011.

Case Adams, PhD

Case Adams has a Ph.D. in Natural Health Sciences, is a California Naturopath and is Board Certified as an Alternative Medicine Practitioner, with clinical experience and diplomas in Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling, Homeopathy and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 27 books and numerous articles on print and online magazines. Contact: [email protected]

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