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Ractopamine and Turkeys: A Response to FoodBabe


Vani Hari, or Food Babe, as she calls herself, has a large following online. However, she does not garner a lot of respect from the agriculture and science community. Why? Because she is notorious for fear-mongering and spreading misinformation across the interwebs. Forbes published an article called, “Quackmail: Why You Shouldn’t Fall for the Internet’s Newest Fool, The Food Babe” in June and David Gorski, an oncologist who writes for Science Based Medicine calls her “The Jenny McCarthy of Food.”

Despite the fact that her claims are routinely debunked by scientists and experts, hundreds of thousands of readers have fallen prey to her deceptive tactics and now live in fear of food.

Hari’s latest erroneous article attacked an American tradition: The Thanksgiving Turkey.


foodbabe turkey

Foodbabe wrote an article about your Thanksgiving turkey, saying that it is full of dangerous chemicals. Although this article has been shared thousands of times on the internet already and has many people questioning their Thanksgiving food choices, I know for a fact that many of the claims FoodBabe made are not only misleading, but are downright lies.

How do I know this? Because I am a turkey farmer.

As a farmer, we have two top priorities: animal welfare and food safety. Every single decision we make that influences either of those outcomes is thoroughly researched by my husband and I and the network of veterinarians, animal nutritionists, and scientists we work with regularly.

Let’s talk about FoodBabe’s claims and I’ll give you a chance to hear the perspective of someone who truly is an expert on the way turkeys are raised: me.

In her article, Hari first brings up animal antibiotic use, saying

“Most conventionally raised (non-organic) turkeys are pumped full of antibiotics, and this overuse of antibiotics is creating a major human health issue.”

I have written about antibiotic use several times. And the bottom line is this:

· Turkeys are not “pumped full” of antibiotics. We work closely with veterinarians to use antibiotics only when it improves animal health by preventing, controlling, or treating disease.

· Use of antibiotics on farms is NOT creating a human health issue. All peer-reviewed risk assessments articles to date have shown no significant risk to public health from on farm use of antibiotics. (Dr. Scott Hurd, Hurd’s Health)

But this distorted claim about antibiotics was just a supplement to the real focus of her article: ractopamine.

Hari argues that ractopamine is used on turkey farms and is present in your Thanksgiving turkey.

Before I address whether or not it’s in your Thanksgiving bird, let’s go over some basics.


What is ractopamine?

Ractopamine is a beta-agonist. Beta-agonists are used in human medication to treat asthma, bradycardia (slow heart rate), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart failure, allergic reactions, and hyperkalemia.

Ractopamine is NOT a hormone, steroid or antibiotic. Ractopamine is not a genetically modified organism and it is not manufactured by using genetically modified organisms.

(By the way, there are no hormones or steroids used in poultry or pork production in the United States.)


Why are animals given ractopamine?

Ractopamine is a feed additive that helps animals develop lean muscle mass. Some cattle, hogs and turkeys are given ractopamine.

“In animals, beta-agonists function as what are known as "repartitioning agents." Repartitioning agents signal the muscle tissue to change how it devotes the energy the animal extracts from the feed it eats into muscle vs. fat. Fed for a short term, they can cause animals that have the right genetics to devote more of that nutritional energy to making muscle, which becomes meat, and less to putting down fat. That repartitioning ultimately not only improves the consumer acceptability of the meat cuts, it also improves farmers' profitability by using less feed per pound of animal grown.” (source)

Some bodybuilders use beta-agonists (including ractopamine) to gain lean muscle mass.


Why do farmers use feed additives that promote lean muscle mass?

To maximize how turkeys digest and utilize their feed.

Farmers constantly strive to raise turkeys in ways that use fewer natural resources while also providing the absolute best care and nutrition for the birds.  Animals that grow faster with less feed (that is optimized nutritionally for them – the perfect diet, if you will) have a smaller environmental impact.  Plus, less feed can cut down on the cost of raising an animal, which means lower food prices for you.


Is ractopamine safe?


“Ractopamine has been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for use in pigs in the United States since 1999, for cattle since 2003 and for turkeys since 2009. It is similarly approved in about two dozen countries around the world.

In addition to the FDA and the United Nations (Codex) food safety body, 28 other regulatory authorities globally have accepted the research that says human food produced using the compound is safe for humans. In more than a decade of use, no adverse human health reports have been associated with people eating meat from animals fed ractopamine.” (source)


Why is it banned in other countries?

Dr. Donald Beermann, from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, explains, "Countries that have banned it, the European Union in particular, have come forward and said even though the scientific basis is there to know that the use of these compounds is safe, for other reasons they choose not to approve them.

"The World Health Organization and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization joint expert commission on food additives has on three separate occasions (2004, 2006 and 2010) concluded that ractopamine is safe. 

"The global food safety agencies, which would include the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Canadian Human Safety Division, Veterinary Drugs Directorate, Health Canada, have all come forward and stated ractopamine is absolutely safe." (source)


Is it widely used in the turkey industry?

Here’s the kicker, I asked around, and I didn’t find any turkey farmers that use ractopamine.

None of the farmers in Iowa that I talked to use the feed additive. And farmers in our neighboring state, Minnesota, which is the #1 turkey state in the US, reported the same thing. They’re not using ractopamine.

turkey farmer


So there you have it. FoodBabe has once again proven herself to be a disingenuous promoter of fear-mongering against conventional food. For the truth about what happens on farms, ask a farmer.

coverBy the way, here’s a farmer talking about beta-agonists in cattle and another discussing ractopamine in pigs. For more information about how turkeys are raised, check out some of these posts on my blog:

Would you like to comment?

  1. Thank you, Katie, for this informative, easy-to-read and understand post! We need more farmers like you to debunk Food Babe!

  2. Uhm... Like anyone ever expected Food Babe to be truthful. She makes everything sound like Armageddon + the Apocalypse is coming if you have ever looked at a kemikal.

  3. How dare you to use facts (peer reviewed facts!) against a person who clearly doesn't know any better than fear mongering?!
    Ok, great article, I'd love to link people to this site whenever they bring food babe's claims.
    The only "downside" I've found is that people will say bs about you being a turkey farmer, you know, they believe that people cannot be trusted and money moves everything.
    Keep the good job.

  4. Thank you, I really enjoyed your post.

  5. Appreciate your post and despise the fear mongering and villainization of the industry! A couple of suggestions for your post though. After extolling the virtues of ractopamine you then went on to state in essence "but nobody uses it." So, why not? Also, it would be nice if you provided some data on the actual industry wide use of ractopamine as opposed to anecdote.

    1. Chris - it's not effective in turkeys. Several farmers participated in trials a couple of years ago and decided it wasn't making a big difference. I am working on getting industry-wide data, so I will update you if/when I get that info.

  6. I'm sorry but I had to read this article with a grain of salt after she commented and claimed that steroids and hormones are prohibited in poultry and pork in the US. That is a blatant lie since you can just go out and order some chicken wings at a restaurant and see how huge they are. I know that isn't what the article was about but how can I believe anything in this article when that claim was made.

    1. Antibiotics are what allow chickens to get bigger than normal not steroids or hormones. The antibiotics kill the good bacteria so that all the nutrition goes to the chicken, allowing it to grow bigger than normal. Steroids and hormones are not allowed in chicken and it is too difficult and costly to inject in chickens.

    2. In her post, I saw where she said they weren't used in the US, not that they were prohibited. I am curious as to why they aren't being used in poultry and pork, when they are being used in cattle.

    3. Nowfaith526 - Actually, steroids and hormones are prohibited. Even FoodBabe acknowledges that: "Growth hormones aren’t allowed to be used in raising poultry, so this label is meaningless and used as a marketing trick when labeled on turkeys (such as Butterball)."

      This is probably the one thing she and I agree on.

      Leslie, I'm not sure why they are not allowed in poultry and pork but are allowed in cattle. My gut tells me it's something to do with the size of the animal, but I will ask the farmers I know.

  7. Actually, Carlos, we use antibiotics to prevent two diseases: necrotic enteritis and coccidiosis. If the animal has those diseases, they do not digest their food as efficiently, and they grow slower. Preventing the disease causes them to grow faster because healthy birds grow better.

    The biggest reason poultry is so big now is breeding and nutrition.

  8. Katie, I enjoy hearing about how you raise turkeys. Why DON'T you use ractopamine in your feed rations?

    1. Hi Ma,

      Some farmers have tried it and it just didn't make a big enough difference to warrant its use!

    2. Thank you, Katie, for your reply.

  9. Thanks for such a level-headed post for such a timely topic. It's crazy how something like ractopamine can get so much attention when it doesn't even sound like it's used on most turkey farms. (And even if it was, there's nothing to be concerned about anyway!) Glad there is a farmer (you!) to set the record straight.

    1. Thanks, Julie. You're right, even if farmers were using it, there's really no need to be concerned.

  10. If this is the case why don't experts give overweight people the drug to turn their fat into muscle? I've lost faith in the experts.

  11. Great post Katie! I learned a lot.

  12. Thank you for a very informative post! There is so much food source shaming (if that's a thing) it's getting ridiculous. I do think people need to know where their food comes from and that is due diligence. But there is a fine line between being aware and fear mongering and I'm so sick of the latter. I appreciate the perspective.

  13. Awesome article. I trust both farmers and those directly involved in food or animal science. I'm excited to be eating turkey next Thursday!