Sustainable Shopping Tips For Your Thanksgiving Turkey

November 22, 2016
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As you are purchasing your turkey this year, you may feel a bit confused navigating all the certifications and logos. Labels can be hard to decipher and often don’t mean what you think they do.

Did that organic turkey spend time outside? Maybe. Was it raised “cage-free”? Definitely. Cage free may be a huge deal for egg-laying hens but means nothing for turkeys, since in the U.S. they are never raised in cages.

The ASPCA put together a handy guide to the label consumers need to look for and what they mean, as well as those labels and terms they should avoid. 

What to Look For

The below certifications have standards that represent significant improvements over conventional turkey farming practices.

Certified Humane: Compliance verified by auditors. Cage confinement, hormones and subtherapeutic (preventative) antibiotics prohibited. Outdoor access not required for turkeys, but adequate space, enrichment (such as perches), minimum continuous dark hours and bedding required for indoor environments. Standards extend to breeding animals, transport and slaughter.

Global Animal Partnership: Compliance verified by auditors.  Six “step” rating program for animals raised for meat—not eggs or milk. For turkeys Step 2 represents a significant improvement over conventional standards and provides for an enriched indoor environment with minimum space and dark hours.  Each additional step improves quantity and quality of space, adds enrichment, requires better, more balanced breeds and other welfare improvements. Hormones and subtherapeutic antibiotics prohibited at all steps. Standards extend to transport but not breeding animals or slaughter. See the ASPCA label guide for details.

Animal Welfare Approved: Compliance verified by auditors. Continuous access to pasture or range required. Cage confinement, hormones and subtherapeutic antibiotics prohibited. Standards extend to breeding animals, transport and slaughter. Represents a very significant improvement over conventional standards.


What to Avoid

While looking for a more humanely raised turkey this season, steer clear of these meaningless claims.

Cage Free: In the U.S. turkeys are never raised in cages, making this a useless claim.

Hormone Free: Hormones are prohibited by the USDA for use on turkeys, so this label is meaningless.

Humanely Raised/Humanely Handled:  The USDA does not clearly define this term, nor does it independently verify the claim. Therefore the terms offer no assurance about the animals’ welfare.

Natural/Naturally Raised/All Natural: According to the USDA, "natural" turkey products must be "minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients." But the agency doesn't go on to define "artificial." Turkeys raised in conventional conditions and fed regular doses of antibiotics can still be labeled “natural”.

Young: All turkeys are young at slaughter as an average turkey in the wild can live for years but modern turkeys are bred to grow to slaughter weight in just weeks. Turkeys bred for less intensive growth rates may suffer less from lameness and can have better quality of life.


You can also access ASPCA's full label guide here for more on labelling. 

Courtesy of the ASPCA.

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