Thanksgiving is only three weeks away. Last year at this time, my family decided I would be the one cooking the big dinner. That’s why — two days before the big day — I found myself at Whole Foods buying an organic turkey. It cost me $75. Yes. You read that right. $75. While everyone else I knew was collecting their free-with-purchase turkeys from Pathmark or Stop & Shop, I was carrying home the most expensive piece of meat I’ve ever bought. Was it worth it? It tasted great, and, after interviewing Sharanya Krishna Prasad, U.S. Programs Officer with the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), I’d do it all over again. Here’s what she had to say:
KB: Why is organic turkey so expensive?
Krishna Prasad: Organic turkey is currently more expensive for various reasons. Intensive agriculture is highly subsidized by the U.S. government, and the price of products from intensively raised animals does not consider the true environmental, human health and animal welfare costs associated with producing and consuming factory farmed meat. As the demand for more humane meats increases, and when industry standards for all animal-derived products are raised, the cost of these products will become more competitive.
KB: There are so many different options out there. If I can’t afford organic, what are some of the more acceptable labels I should be looking for?
Krishna Prasad: When shopping for a turkey, look for labels such as “Pasture Raised,” “USDA Organic,” “American Humane Certified,” “Animal Welfare Approved,” or “Certified Humane.” These labels mean animals should have been raised under more humane standard where they were given access to sunlight and fresh air and had freedom of movement. They were also spared non-therapeutic antibiotics and growth-promoting hormones. Avoid misleading labels like “Natural” or “Naturally Raised.” While “Naturally Raised” ensures animals were not given antibiotics or hormones, this label does not mean the animals have freedom, fresh air or sunlight. The term “Natural” has no relevance to animal welfare and merely indicates that the product doesn’t have artificial additives.
KB: Is it worth buying organic over pasture-raised or the other non-organic labels you just mentioned?
Krishna Prasad: WSPA has developed an easy-to-use humane classification system where labeling claims have been designated as ‘Good’, ‘Better’, or ‘Best’ depending on the level of animal welfare required by the claim standard. Under this classification system, both USDA organic and pasture-raised fall under the same category — ‘Better.’
For turkeys, the best labels to look for are Animal Welfare Approved, American Humane Certified, and Certified Humane. If products with these labels are unavailable, we recommend choosing from one of the ‘Better’ or ‘Good’ category labels such as USDA organic, pasture-raised, or free range. If a turkey doesn’t have one of these labels, it was raised without the consideration of animal welfare, and buyers may be paying a premium for products that likely don’t meet their expectations in terms of the impacts on animals.
KB: How can I get my store to carry the “Better” or “Good” categories of turkey?
Krishna Prasad: Consumers should request humane food products from their retailers by speaking with the purchasing manager of the stores they frequently shop at. Studies have shown that it only takes a few customers to request a product before a store will carry it. In addition, WSPA’s website www.EatHumane.org has a postcard that consumers can print and drop off at the comments and suggestions box at their store to request more humane products.
KB: Does organic turkey taste different than the Butterball everyone might be used to?
Krishna Prasad: While some studies have been conducted on the taste of meat from organically-raised turkeys versus meat from intensively raised animals, to my knowledge they have not been conclusive. WSPA has noticed a trend among gourmet restaurants featuring more locally sourced, humanely-raised products on their menus. Chefs are probably taking in to account both the better care and fewer resources it takes to raise animals humanely. But I am sure they are considering the good taste as well. Today most food offered for sale in major U.S. supermarkets is from animals raised under intensive confinement on large factory style farms. These animals are typically denied fresh air and sunlight, and given very limited freedom to move and express their natural behaviors. Polls have shown that a large majority of Americans think the way farm animals are raised is important to them. Consumers who choose humane turkeys can be assured that the animals were given more natural living conditions and are typically given access to fresh air and sunlight, and freedom to move and express their natural behaviors.
So there you have it. Will this affect the way you shop for meat this holiday season? Was I insane for spending so much on a turkey that was gone in less than 20 minutes? I’d love to hear your feedback.