Expert Spotlight: 5 Questions with Steve Roach, Food Animal Concerns Trust

A recent report, Stuffed: The Use of Antibiotics and Other Drugs in the U.S. Turkey Industry, highlights the antibiotics policies of the top 20 turkey producers in the United States. The report, written by Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) was first released in November 2015 and updated in November 2018. We talked to Steven Roach, FACT’s Food Safety Program Director and co-author of the report.

1. While we are familiar with your work, can you tell our readers a little bit about Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) and why the organization is concerned about antibiotic resistance?

FACT’s mission is to make sure that food animals are raised safely and humanely. FACT provides resources (grants, scholarships, webinars, and mentoring) to farmers to improve the welfare of the animals they raise. FACT promotes steps that farms can take to improve the safety of meat milk and eggs they produce. We work on antibiotic resistance because it clear that the unsafe use of antibiotics on farm is creating resistance that harms human and animal health.

2. Why did FACT focus on turkey in Stuffed? Why not pigs, chicken or beef?

When FACT first looked in 2015, we focused on turkey because surveillance by the FDA showed that bacteria from turkey had higher levels of resistance than bacteria from other meats and because there was no good information available on antibiotic use in turkeys. In 2018, we also knew from animal specific antibiotic sales data first released by FDA in late 2017 that turkey producers were using antibiotics at higher rates than other livestock producers when measured in antibiotic sales divided by weight of animal produced.

3. How did FACT collect the data and information to produce this report?

FACT emailed and sent by certified mail surveys to the CEOs of the top twenty U.S. turkey processors. We then searched company websites and looked for media reports about company antibiotic policies. For the limited number of companies that responded, we followed up with additional questions if we had any. Given the low level of response, for the next round FACT will likely search company websites first and then ask the companies to confirm what we found.

4. The report was first published in 2015, what, if anything has changed in regards to antibiotic use in the turkey industry?

In terms of antibiotic use across all their production lines, FACT saw very little difference between 2015 and 2018. Even companies like Tyson Foods and Perdue that have shifted all of their chicken production to raised without antibiotics are not making similar changes in their conventional turkey lines. There has been a slight uptick from nine to twelve in companies raising some of their turkeys under a raised without antibiotics claim. While this gives consumers more choice, FACT would rather see companies limit antibiotics to treating sick animals across their lines instead of prohibiting all antibiotic use in some. FACT believes sick turkeys should be treated, so prefers labels like the Certified Responsible Antibiotic Use, which limits antibiotics in turkeys to disease treatment. One of the challenges FACT faces is making sure that product labels indicate real reductions in antibiotic use and are not just misleading consumers.

5. What is the role of consumers in combating antibiotic resistance?

Consumers should shop for products from animals raised without routine antibiotics. This means antibiotics should only be used to treat sick or injured animals not to prevent disease or promote growth. Ideally this would be based on a third party certification and include requirements for animal health and welfare to reduce the need for antibiotic even for treatment. FACT’s website has some resources to help consumers make humane and healthy choices. While at the website, consumers can also sign up to receive action alerts aimed at reducing antibiotic over use on farm.