This morning an ad popped up on my screen (yes we at the paper get those too) for a Whole Foods Animal Welfare Certified Turkey. Always the curious minded reporter, I had to go see what that meant.
Because, of course, we all know how the story ends for turkeys on Thanksgiving.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has a very elaborate chart that explains turkey labels, and to my interpretation, how much “mistreatment” the consumer is willing to overlook.
Color-coded categories explain living space minimums, environmental enrichments, if and how much outdoor time the bird will see, breed health, natural light, if toe or beak trimming is allowed, how far the bird can be transported, if the farms are audited and are up to standards.
Labels range from Animal Welfare Approved (green scores on all) to Natural (with reds across the board.
Certified humane means the bird has some space to roam, but natural light is not required. American Humane Certified is much less restrictive, the bird must have space to stand, turn and flap their wings and antibiotics can be used for nontherapeutic purposes. No Antibiotics Ever only means (you guessed it) no non therapeutic use of antibiotics, as does USDA ORGANIC.
Free Range only means that the bird be given an undefined access to the outdoors.
Natural, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it means no artificial ingredients have been added to the turkey meat, and the meat is only minimally processed.
According to the ASPCA, the average turkey is raised in football field sized houses with tens of thousands of birds that have had their beaks cut to prevent injuries to their fellow turkeys and have about 2 square feet of space each. Breeding means the white meat will be plentiful, but that the birds have trouble walking.
No Hormones Added is a gimmick. Repeat after me: “by law turkeys and chickens are not allowed to be given growth hormones.
So to sum it all up, ignore Fresh, Young Raised without Antibiotics and Vegetarian Fed labels.
To get a humanly raised bird, look for Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane or GAP. The Chart is available at www.aspca.org.
As far as prices go, a White Oak Pastures brand 16 lb. Pasture-Raised Whole Holiday Turkey is available online for $139. At Walmart.com Butterball turkeys are $.98 per pound or $15.68 for the same sized turkey.
Quality of meat aside, how happy is your turkey and does it matter? The answer is that it may matter if the animal is happy. One study indicates that “increased levels of stress hormones in the muscle could lead to post mortem metabolic/structural modifications that could be reflected on meat quality,” researcher Dario G Pighin et.al wrote.
As to which turkey is on your table may come down to how much are you willing to spend?