Still deciding whether to buy an organic turkey or a conventionally raised turkey for Thanksgiving this year? Here's one more reason to consider going organic: Turkeys labeled organic are raised without antibiotics, and the overuse of those drugs in raising farm animals is causing big problems in humans.

About 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in industrially produced livestock. Producers administer the drugs to promote growth and prevent animals from getting sick on crowded factory farms. (Read parts 1 and 2 of our series: "The Rise of Superbugs" and "How Your Hospital Can Make You Sick." Plus, check our special report "How Safe is Your Ground Beef?" and antibiotic resistance guide.)

But the widespread use of antibiotics in farmed animals breeds drug-resistant bacteria that can spread from farms to humans through contaminated food, airborne dust blowing off farms, and water and soil polluted with contaminated feces.

Experts Are Concerned About Antibiotics in Meat

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made reducing inappropriate antibiotic use a top priority. Doctors are worried, too. Ninety percent of physicians in a recent Consumer Reports poll said they are troubled by the meat industry's use of antibiotics on healthy animals and its effect on human health.

Concern over drug resistance led several public health groups, including Health Care Without Harm and the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, to urge doctors and pharmacists to sign a pledge to purchase a Thanksgiving turkey "raised without the routine use of antibiotics."

Hospitals are getting in on the action, too. Some 300 hospitals around the country, including the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center and Fletcher Allen Health Care in Vermont, have taken steps to to stop feeding meat raised with antibiotics to their patients and staff.

How to Find an Organic Turkey

If you want to avoid a turkey raised with antibiotics, you need to read labels carefully. Here's what to look for:

  • USDA Organic/No Antibiotics. This is one of the best guarantees a bird didn't receive antibiotics. (Note that under current rules poultry that is labeled USDA Organic may have been given antibiotic injections before it hatched and until its second day of life.)
  • USDA Process Verified. When this label is accompanied by claims like "No Antibiotics Administered" and variations you can buy with confidence.
  • Animal Welfare Approved. Poultry with this label has been raised under healthy conditions that don't include administration of antibiotics. (Birds may only be given antibiotics if they are sick or injured. Non-therapeutic use of antibiotics isn't allowed.)

Three labels to be leery of: "antibiotic free," "no antibiotic residues," and "no antibiotic growth promotants." Those are all unapproved claims.