Labeling on turkeys can be confusing and misleading, but buying an organic, humanely-raised turkey offers clear benefits.
MINNEAPOLIS — As shoppers consider their holiday poultry options, they’ll find a confusing array of labels on their potential turkeys. Rather than searching for keywords like “hormone-free” to “cage-free,” a leading consumer watchdog group is urging buyers to look for “organic” instead.
According to Consumer Reports, a growing number of health experts encourage consumption of organic turkey because it’s the only way to guarantee that the birds were raised without antibiotics, a growing source of health problems in humans. The editorially independent nonprofit reported on Nov. 17:
“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. …
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.”
Unfortunately, some turkey farms and grocery stores may be using misleading labeling to take advantage of Americans’ desire to avoid unnecessary exposure to unhealthy or toxic food additives. Writing for Time magazine on Tuesday, Ethan Wolff-Mann reported on the “big lie” about Thanksgiving turkeys: “The USDA doesn’t permit hormones for poultry.”
Consumer Reports noted that in order to be labelled USDA Organic, a turkey cannot receive any antibiotics after the second day of its life, so consumers should look for turkeys labeled “USDA Organic/Antibiotic Free” to guarantee meat that’s completely free of antibiotics.
In an October poll by Consumer Reports National Research Center, 90 percent of doctors expressed concern about antibiotic overuse in livestock leading to drug-resistant bacteria, and the nonprofit reported that about 300 hospitals around the country are now serving only antibiotic-free meat to patients and in their cafeterias.
Watch “Stop Giving Animals Unnecessary Antibiotics” from Consumer Reports:
‘Cage-free’ turkeys raised in giant warehouses
Wolff-Mann reported that consumers may likewise be tempted to pay a premium for “cage-free” turkeys, but in reality the vast majority of turkeys are raised cage-free in massive warehouses. “By law, all turkeys are young, cage-free, and hormone-free,” he noted.
Last week, Daisy Freund, director of farm animal welfare at the American Society for the Prevention of the Cruelty of Animals, told USA Today that most of the labels “don’t tell you anything” about how an animal was raised, adding:
“The majority of turkeys in this country raised for food … are living in these intensive, inhumane, unhealthy conditions that consumers wouldn’t accept if they could see them … But by the time the meat reaches the supermarket, we’re all relying on these very vague words.”
Instead, Freund recommends that consumers look for labels like “Free-Range,” which requires farmers prove that turkeys had access to the outdoors, “Animal Welfare Approved,” a certification offered by the organization A Greener World, or “Certified Humane,” signifying approval by Humane Farm Animal Care.
Whole Foods partners with Global Animal Partnership to offer a detailed rating system on many meat products. However, ethical shoppers may be avoiding the chain after Direct Action Everywhere, an animal rights group, alleged “horrific” conditions at Whole Foods’ major turkey supplier, Diestel Turkey Ranch.
For turkey buyers who are truly concerned about the life a bird led before reaching the dinner table, the best practice may be to get to know a small, local farmer at a farmers market and ask to tour the facility.
Watch “Video Tour of a Turkey Farm and Processing Plant Featuring Temple Grandin” from Meatnewsnetwork: