Keep antibiotics off your table this Thanksgiving

Health officials advise reducing meats treated with antibiotics

The Ecology Center’s Healthy Food in Health Care program is taking the fight against the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture to the Thanksgiving table this year.

“We're asking health-care professionals to pledge to serve an antibiotic-free turkey this Thanksgiving to raise awareness about the antibiotic-resistance crisis, which is not just from doctors prescribing them for patients,” according to Nicki Milgrom, organizer for the Healthy Food in Health Care program.

Just last week, the Centers for Disease Control promoted the national observance of Get Smart About Antibiotics Week, “a key component of the CDC’s efforts to improve antibiotic stewardship in communities, in healthcare facilities, and on the farm in collaboration with state-based programs, nonprofit partners and for-profit partners,” according to a statement from the agency.“The one-week observance raises awareness of the threat of antibiotic resistance and the importance of appropriate antibiotic prescribing and use.”

While antibiotics have an important role in human medicine, “up to 50 percent of all the antibiotics prescribed for people are not needed or are not optimally effective as prescribed,” the CDC said. “Antibiotics are also commonly used for promoting growth in food animals, one type of use that is not necessary.”

A Seattle pediatrician, Wendy Sue Swanson, says she’s taking a new step this year to keep her kids away from excess antibiotics like those found in many Thanksgiving turkeys.

“This is new for me and hasn’t been a priority until the last few years as I’ve tuned into information about the human microbiome and ways that antibiotics in our land, food, water and pharmacies really change our own habitat and potentially our family’s health,” according to Swanson, who blogs as Seattle Mama Doc.

She’s encouraging the health care professionals among her readers to sign on to Health Care Without Harm’s pledge to celebrate Thanksgiving with an antibiotic-free turkey, and to work with the food service operations at their facilities to use more antibiotic-free meats.

An antibiotic-free turkey will cook up like any other turkey, so go ahead with whatever is traditional in your family. But if you choose to go with a heritage variety of turkey, which are becoming increasingly available, you might want to consider the useful advice from the excellent food writer Melissa Clark on Epicurious.

“Because of their more natural, active lifestyle, heritage turkeys must be roasted differently in order to avoid toughness,” Clark writes. “With longer legs, a leaner breast, and a more diminutive size compared to a standard supermarket turkey, heritage birds look, taste, and roast up differently than your average Thanksgiving fowl.”