Turkey farming is big business, especially when the holiday season rolls around. Factory farms can be crowded, resulting in inhumane living conditions and an increased likelihood that unwanted chemicals wind up on your Thanksgiving plate. Luckily, organic turkey farmers are looking out for the well-being of turkeys and their consumers.
Organic turkeys are often more expensive than nonorganic birds, but for many of today’s conscious consumers, knowing the source of one’s food is worth the extra expense.
What is an Organic Turkey?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has specific requirements that poultry producers must meet in order for their birds to be certified organic, all based on the standard that “Farmers and ranchers must accommodate the health and natural behavior of their animals year-round.”
USDA-certified organic turkeys must be:
- Generally, managed organically from the bird’s second day of life
- Allowed year-round access to the outdoors except under specific conditions (e.g., inclement weather)
- Raised on certified organic land meeting all organic crop production standards.
- Raised per animal health and welfare standards.
- Fed 100% certified organic feed, except for trace minerals and vitamins used to meet the animal’s nutritional requirements.
- Managed without antibiotics, added growth hormones, mammalian or avian byproducts, or other prohibited feed ingredients (e.g., urea, manure, or arsenic compounds).
Why Buy Organic?
- Fewer Antibiotics. According to an article published by Consumer Reports last year, “about 80% of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in industrially produced livestock.” The use of these antibiotics prevents the spread of disease in crowded farm conditions, but it may also be contributing to increased antibiotic resistance in humans. As a rule, antibiotics aren’t used on organic turkeys after their second day of life, and CR testing found that these tend to carry fewer anitibiotic-resistant bacteria than conventionally farmed birds.
- Organically Fed. What a turkey eats eventually makes its way (indirectly) to the consumer. Nonorganic turkeys are often served cheap feed, such as genetically modified corn, soy or grains treated with pesticides. Chemicals from these crops are ingested by the turkey and can end up building up in their fatty tissues, which we then consume on Thanksgiving.
- Animal Welfare. Those concerned about the bird’s quality of life may rest easier knowing their turkey was fed better and raised in more favorable conditions than that of a crowded factory.
What to Look For
The surest way to know if a bird is truly organic is if it has a USDA certification label. Look for labels that say “USDA Organic/No Antibiotics,” “USDA Processed Verified,” and “Animal Welfare Approved.”
Beware of labels that claim “antibiotic free” or “no antibiotic residues,” as these are unproven. Also misleading are the phrases “no antibiotic growth promotants” and “no growth promoting antibiotics.” The use of growth hormones is actually illegal in the U.S., so no turkey producer should be using them, whether their birds are organic or not.
Where to Buy
- Farmer’s Market: Start here to see if you can find a small local farm that raises organic turkeys.
- Grocery Store: Due to increased demand, supermarkets are stocking more and more organic options every year. If your local retailer doesn’t carry organic turkeys, be sure to suggest it to the manager on duty. Doing so might make that store more likely to carry organic birds in the future.
- Mail Order: If all else fails, you can always have a frozen organic bird shipped right to your door. A couple of good options are D’Artagnan and Organic Prairie. You’ll want to place your order early to avoid holiday shipping delays, and to give yourself plenty of time to properly thaw and cook the turkey.
Purchasing an organic turkey is just one way to have a healthy, natural holiday season. While you’re going organic, make sure your stretchy pants are washed and ready for turkey day with Rebel Green USDA-certified organic laundry detergents. And remember to use our Fruit & Veggie Clean to scrub your sweet potatoes, green beans, cranberries and other produce to go with that organic turkey. Finally, natural cleaners like Rebel Green Deluxe Dish Soap, All Purpose Spray and Fresh & Clean Hand Soap (all scented with pure essential oils) make the post-dinner cleanup less of a chore. (Click here to learn how to save on Rebel Green products during the month of November.)
What are some other ways you’re going green this year?