Disease Proof

Operation Turkey Undercover: The Frightening Truth About That Thanksgiving Day Bird

Thanksgiving is almost here and I am so pumped. I absolutely love this holiday.  I love seeing my family after being away from home for so long, I love the mouth-watering home cooked food, and contrary to many of my black Friday wary peers, I get a complete adrenaline rush from trying to find the best deals amid hordes of sale crazy shoppers.

Yet, there is something about this holiday that I don’t look forward to: stuffing my face with turkey. In fact, I refrain from eating the stuff all together.  While I am a prideful, animal loving vegan, health reasons alone are enough to eschew this Thanksgiving Day bird of choice. I know Thanksgiving is only one day each year and if you want to eat Turkey on Thanksgiving, it’s not the worst nutrition crime you could commit.  Yet at the same time, I just can’t sit back and let these facts go unshared.  Here’s an inside peek at the turkey knowledge circulating in my nutritional researched-stuffed brain when I glance at the bird on the table:

1)   46 million turkeys are raised every year just for this holiday alone. These turkeys are big mutant cousins of the turkeys that the pilgrims ate. The turkeys on our tables are fed incredibly high-calorie diets so that they grow much larger than any wild turkey would, and at an unnaturally fast rate.  Today’s farm raised birds become so top heavy that their legs can barely hold them. Their beaks and toes are cut so that they don’t scratch each other. Modern factory-farmed turkeys cannot even breed naturally due to all of their malformations. All turkeys we buy in the supermarket rely on artificial insemination to reproduce.

Turkeys. Flickr: cyanocorax

2)   Turkeys carry creepy pathogens. There’s this bug called campylobacter. It’s the leading cause of food-borne illness in the United States. Campylobacter is a dangerous little critter, estimated to infect more than 2.4 million Americans each year. Turns out a whopping 90 percent of turkeys produced in America are contaminated with our friend Mr. Campylobacter.  This is a consequence of birds being housed in super crowded cages with less than three square feet of space to move and being regularly dosed with antibiotics.  Speaking of antibiotics…

3)   Antibiotics: Turkeys produced on factory farms are fed a disturbingly large quantity of antibiotics as a routine preventive measure to ward off illnesses between them and to accelerate growth.  When you eat turkey, those antibiotics don’t suddenly disappear like Harry Houdini. They are transferred directly to you.  This is scary because when you ingest unnecessary antibiotics by eating Mr. Gobble-Gobble, your own healthy intestinal bacteria get wiped out, making you less able to fight off diseases. Oh, and the bacteria that the drugs are designed to kill eventually morph into stronger, more powerful versions of themselves.  Scarily, these bugs can transform into superbugs in which we, nor the turkeys, can form a natural resistance.

4)   Turkeys are full of synthetic hormones: the turkeys sold in supermarkets are routinely pumped full of artificial hormones to promote muscle growth, and those hormones are passed directly to you if you eat it.  That might sound good to all the bodybuilders I know are reading this article, but actually our bodies work hard to keep a natural balance of hormones in our circulation and eating animal products treated with hormones equals trouble for this healthy balance.  Excess hormones increase your risk of cancer.

5)   More toxins in turkey: eat turkey and you will be getting a nice helping of dioxin too.  What’s dioxin you say? Dioxin happens to be one of the most toxic chemicals known to science and is recognized as a cancer-causing demon among the scientific community.  It is estimated that 93 percent of our exposure to dioxin comes through eating animal products. 

It’s hard to believe that a seemingly “harmless” bird could contain all this junk, right? I find it hard to believe myself.  If you want to eat a bit of turkey on Thanksgiving I won’t shake my head (this is assuming I actually saw you eating turkey), but I will encourage you to load up on all of the other delicious Thanksgiving meal alternatives instead.  Savory sweet potato pie, roasted vegetables, a hearty vegetable stew, cranberry relish, and berry cobbler are dishes that I look forward to. I could go on with all of the amazing, healthy foods that will be at my Thanksgiving Day table….So even though eating turkey might not be the best idea considering the pathogens, dioxin and all that jazz, I’m still a big foodie and am looking forward to some good holiday eatin’ and my adrenaline rush inducer of choice (aka black Friday shopping).

Having a delightful and delicious time with my family and friends need not include a turkey.  Thanksgiving is a time to show thanks, after all, and avoiding turkey and other unhealthy foods every day allows me to be thankful for my good health now and for years to come.




1)   Division of Foodborne, Bacterial, and Mycotic Diseases, “Campylobacter,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.ced.gov/nczved/dfbmd/disease_listing/campylobacter?gi.html#2

2)   ActionPA, “Dioxin Homepage,” managed by ActionPA.org, http://www.ejnet.org/dioxin

3)   John Robbins, The Food Revolution (Berkeley, CA: Conari Press, 2001), 128.

4)   www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4037499

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Comments (14) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
thecatzpajamas - November 18, 2011 10:46 AM

wow this article uses a lot of scare tactics, and thus undermines itself. No one wants to listen to exaggerated, bias alarmist rantings, and I personally discount articles containing it. Besides, no mention is made of heirloom breed turkeys raised on natural free range grasses as an alternative. Why is there only 1 option here? Just like any product sold in any supermarket, there is the low quality, cheaper brand, and the better, healthier options. BTW, trimming a bird's sharp claws so they don't gouge their neighbor is not any reason to freak out. And all food carries pathogens of one kind or another, that is why we COOK our turkeys. Frankly, i'm rolling my eyes at this article.

mike crosby - November 18, 2011 11:35 AM

Talia, growing up, every Thanksgiving we always had turkey. And at my family gathering this year we will have turkey again.

A few Thanksgiving years ago I had some turkey and my thought as I'm eating it is that I'm tasting death. How can one taste death, hell I don't know, but that was my thought.

Some might say your article is fear mongering, but the truth is the truth. And to watch a video on how these turkeys are raised, it rips your heart out.

Stephanie - November 18, 2011 12:39 PM


I wish I could see the Fuhrman Thanksgiving spread. I'm sure it's wonderful.

Lori - November 18, 2011 1:21 PM

We no longer eat turkey for Thanksgiving, thanks for all this info and that "hearty vegetable stew" sounds like a great idea!
Have a wonderful holiday!

susan maroney - November 18, 2011 1:41 PM

the other alternative, besides going vegetarian, is to buy a humanely raised turkey (preferably from a local farm). this eliminates the concerns of antibiotics, cruel treatment, hormones, etc. and supports local agriculture!

Miriam Neumark R.N. - November 18, 2011 2:02 PM

THANK YOU Dr. Fuhrman for this Accurate ,delightfully funny ,and EDUCATING American ,Thanksgiving article..
The well brainwashed , American PUBLIC , needs a dose of Reality Check ,several times a year just BEFORE all the Major Foodie Holidays !! I had the pleasure to eat with Dr. Fuhrman and 700 other paricipants at his Totally Nutritarian week-end retreat in Princeton , New Jersey, Jan.14-16, 2011. There are tons of delicious nutritious and YUMMY receipes that he has tested and uses daily.. He does not Only " Talk the Walk ,, Dr. Fuhrman WALKS THE TALK .. and he teaches it Very Well too.. Check out ALL his educational teaching tools and Live a happier , healthier and more productive life !!

Jen Siskind - November 18, 2011 4:45 PM

My first Nutritarian Thanksgiving thanks to Dr. Fuhrman. Facts is facts, factory farming is poisoning our food supply. I googled organic turkeys in NE and came up with a list of suppliers. Stillman Farms in MA sells free-range turkeys that also receive non-GMO grain feed. I think this might qualify for your Dad's 10% rule.

diane lassen, RN, HHC - November 18, 2011 5:46 PM

Factory-farmed turkeys, like chickens, are laden with antibiotics and feed laced with arsenic. HOrmones, on the other hand, are illegal to use in poultry and pork, so no hormones added to turkeys, please check facts! Factory farmed turkeys are bred and fed to grow at grossly abnormal weights and rates and are raised in crowded, inhumane conditions. This alone is enough to make me boycott Thanksgiving turkeys. But as a previous writer mentioned, there is a huge difference between these poor birds and the heritage birds that are raised out in the open, and nurtured along like back in the "good old days", fed real grains, allowed to scratch for greens, bugs, seeds and roots. I choose to feed my family lots of green veggie dishes, salad, wild rice with berries and seeds, and an organic kindly-raised turkey. Have a lovely holiday and whatever you choose to eat, make is healthy!
Diane Lassen, RN, HHC

Mac - November 18, 2011 9:33 PM

This article would be stronger if it were a little less snarky in tone, and a little more open to animals raised in less industrialized ways. I understand that the Fuhrman message is a largely vegan one. And I get the animal rights argument too. And the environmental issue. It's the absolute lack of mention of any other option: what about if I raise a bird absolutely free-range on grass, acorns, flax seed, and insects? Is that meat really going to be my death-knell? I'd never eat a conventionally-grown mass-produced Frankenbird that can't even breed. But a heritage turkey that forages on its own and eats "salad" every day? Why is this never addressed?

Talia - November 19, 2011 11:20 AM

The suggestion to purchase an organic, free-range turkey is a good one and I appreciate the comments. The question of eating turkey on Thanksgiving or not it certainly not black and white. There are other options that are well worth looking into that I did not mention in this article. However, it is worth noting that the large majority of people this holiday season will not be able to obtain a bird raised ethically and devoid of hormones, antibiotics and other additives. Upwards of 99% of the turkeys raised for this holiday will come from a factory farm. I think readers of this blog post are likely part of the select few who will seek out a more naturally raised bird, but clearly not everyone in America will be able to do this. There are too many people in America to produce enough turkeys raised by the stringent, natural standards of those who propose alternative solutions to factory farmed birds.

Tone is important and in future articles I will be more careful of this. Have a wonderful, happy and healthy holiday season everyone!

RW - November 20, 2011 3:02 PM

As someone else mentioned, it's illegal to use hormones for poultry production and has been since 1959. I'm a vegetarian and largely stick to "nutritarian" guidelines but my family has been involved with agriculture for generations. I was attracted by the Fuhrman books because of the focus on dietary science. It does not help the cause by using scare tactics of the more animal rights oriented vegetarian groups. Especially when they are false! There are many problems with poultry farming but the use of growth hormones is not one of them.

Stacey Stokes - November 21, 2011 8:03 AM

Thanks for posting this. As I start the Holiday Challenge, I need help re-enforcing that ETL is all about health and daring to be different from the mainstream, and this article really is a great start.

Judi Finneran - November 22, 2011 8:06 PM

No matter how the turkey is raised it has to die to eaten and there is nothing humane about that. We have many choices of other things to eat which do not need to be killed first.

Nutrition Myth Busters Team - April 4, 2012 9:45 PM

While an important issue regarding dioxins was brought to light in your article, your recommendation to not consume turkey based on high levels of dioxins may have been too extreme. First of all, the levels of dioxins are strictly regulated by federal agencies in the US, such as Food and Drug Administration. Stringent controls during production, processing and distribution ensure that dioxins are at levels which do not cause adverse health effects. Indeed, studies show that North Americans do not consume dioxins at high enough levels to negatively impact health; in fact, intake is approximately 3.7 times lower than the ADI. Furthermore, as a lean meat, turkey is a relatively low source of dioxins since they tend to accumulate in fat. If anything, concern should be directed towards freshwater fish, butter, and hot dogs, which rank among the highest sources of dioxins. By not making relative comparisons with other foods, your claim that turkey has high levels of dioxins may be misleading to the general public. Additionally, this information was actually retrieved from a source you have cited in your article. Overall, it is clear that dioxin levels in turkey are not a major cause for alarm. We urge you to consider revising your article so that the public can enjoy their turkey feast without needless worry.

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