It’s funny how some blog posts evolve. This started out as a post about ordering a “free range” Jaindl Farms turkey, and progressed into an investigation and a personal lesson learned on how turkeys are raised.
So, I placed my online order for the Thanksgiving turkey at Whole Foods Market, but so many thoughts kept nagging me. Where was my so-called “free range” bird coming from?
On the Whole Foods web site, it states:
From Jaindl Farms in Orefield, Pennsylvania. Our free-range turkey has 54% more white meat and 55% less fat. This has been the turkey of choice at the White House for more than 40 years!
It all sounds fabulous, until you really think about it. How are they raising turkeys with all that white meat? And we all know the “free range” claim isn’t always what it seems, so I decided to google “Jaindl Farms” and found their web site.
Jaindl Farms in Orefield, Pennsylvania
On their home page, message from David Jaindl states that they sell 750,000 turkeys annually. Three quarters of a million turkeys? Holy giblets batman! With numbers like that, how on earth could they humanely raise that many birds? My guess is they don’t, so I did some further reading.
Quote from David Jaindl:
Corn and soybeans, the main ingredients in our freshly mixed turkey feed are grown on our 10,000 acres of farm land. Jaindl Farms is a fully integrated turkey farm, breeding, hatching, growing, processing and marketing our premium turkeys.
So they grow their own corn and soybeans (and since they don’t state the opposite, I assume it’s GMO) for the turkey feed (1,800 tons of feed weekly). Using farm land to grow only two types of crops for the sole purpose to feed animals. hmmm. That doesn’t sound like sustainable, responsible farming, does it?
It’s just so big business – from the photos of the owners in their fancy suits (they don’t look like farmers, do they?) to the fact that they supplement their income with land development and rental management. I started to feel guilty for supporting a farm like this.
And then I found the Philadelphia Weekly article written about them back in 2008.
Their turkeys are bred to be “broad breasted and short legged.” Turkeys grown like this cannot walk very well, and they certainly cannot breed in a normal way.
The article stated that Jaindl Farm’s 23,000 turkey hens are artificially inseminated once a week for four months. By my calculation, each of the 23,000 hens needs to lay at least 32 eggs to produce the 750,000 turkeys needed for sale. And it’s just as bad for the poor male tom turkeys. Poor guys have to endure being milked for their sperm.
It’s all so cruel.
Also according to the article, “they’ve even begun experimenting with a free-range division” – the article was written in 2008, so that means free-range hasn’t been a part of Jaindl’s farming practices very long. How were they raising their birds previously?
According to a video on their web site, Jaindl only started offering organic turkeys in 2009. Personally, I think their push toward more “humane” sounding traditions have more to do with the Obamas being in the white house rather than actual animal welfare. For decades, their birds have graced the white house Thanksgiving table, and considering the Obamas live a more sustainable organic lifestyle, it could possibly be the only way they could retain their tradition. But that’s just a theory.
Organic & Conventional at the Same Farm
The issue that saddens and puzzles me the most, is the way “organic” has taken on a new modern meaning.
Organic used to mean “developing in a manner analogous to the natural growth and evolution characteristic of living organisms” but now has turned into a big business. It’s acceptable for ONE farm to offer both organic AND conventionally raised animals. How can that be?
Is it pure luck that allows certain birds to live their lives a little better in an organic environment, while the rest of the birds are raised conventionally in a barn a few yards away? If you are classified as an organic farmer, shouldn’t that mean caring for ALL your animals in the same kind humane way? How can farms like Jaindl be both organic AND conventional?
And even on smaller truly humane farms, where do their baby chicks come from? If they don’t breed their own, do they buy chicks from a location that practices the same cruel procedures? From what I have read, there is no other way to breed broad breasted turkeys except artificially.
So, what to do about my guilty, remorseful feelings?
There will be eight of us for dinner, and everyone wants left-overs. I’ll be doing the majority of cooking, but the cost will be split three ways. Is it be fair to force my beliefs onto others, when it means spending more on a local humanely raised bird? Especially since no one else but me would really appreciate the “humaneness” of the bird.
Truthfully, we really can’t afford a local pastured or heritage turkey at 3x the cost. I’ll either have to grin and bear it, which I really don’t want to do. Or compromise with a conventionally raised turkey from a local farm. I think the latter. It’s only $1 more per pound, so depending on the final tally, we’ll probably pick up the extra cost ourselves.
I know there is a chance that local farms don’t treat their birds any better than larger farms like Jaindl, but at least I have the satisfaction of supporting a local small business, and not contributing to the deep pockets of a large industry.
So I’m canceling my Jaindl Turkey order from Whole Foods, and will call one of the local farms to order. I think my guilty conscience will feel better!
In the meantime, my eyes have definitely been opened wider! I’m going to make a mindful effort to try to purchase more local humanely raised meat and poultry. Our meat consumption is much lower than previous years, so even if it costs a bit more, we’ll be eating less, so it’ll even out, right? More to think about!
Sigh…I suppose now that consumers are showing more interest toward “heritage” or “heirloom” poultry varieties, it’ll be the next bandwagon that Big Food corporations will jump on, just like they did with “organic”. Can you imagine? Butterball and Jenny O selling vintage Broad Breasted Bronze turkeys? Oh please, I hope not!
UPDATE: I purchased a truly free-range bird from a nearby farm. I have previously purchased grass fed beef from her, and my husband’s co-worker was raving about her turkeys. It was about $38 for a 9 pound bird. I’ll also be serving a boneless turkey breast…yeah, from Whole Foods. Baby steps, baby steps!
Further Web Resources:
http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2008/11/turkeytech/ – Super sized turkeys
http://heritageturkeyfoundation.org/ – a ton of info on heritage turkeys
http://www.localharvest.org/features/heritage-turkeys.jsp – localharvest.org Heritage turkeys
http://www.metroactive.com/papers/sonoma/11.21.02/thanksgiving-0247.html – Desperately seeking a cruelty-free Thanksgiving
http://www.upc-online.org/freerange.html – Free range poultry and eggs, not all they’re cracked up to be
http://willtaft.com/organic-food/try-organic-free-range-turkey-for-thanksgiving/ – Organic and Free Range Turkey for Thankgiving
http://www.chow.com/food-news/66738/dont-get-duped-on-heritage-turkey/ – Don’t get duped on heritage turkeys, they might not be heritage.