Cancelled the Jaindl Farms Thanksgiving Turkey

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.

Guilty Feelings

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.examiner.com/sustainable-foods-in-boston/where-to-buy-organic-free-range-and-pastured-thanksgiving-turkeys

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.

23 thoughts on “Cancelled the Jaindl Farms Thanksgiving Turkey”

  1. This is a well thought out and accurate post! You are right on in your concerns and did the right thing canceling your order. In many cases getting local food where you can see or talk to the farmer is a better choice even if this food is not “officially” certified as organic. We have some local farmers that produce turkeys and yes they are about double the price of a supermarket organic turkey. But you can visit the farm when you order and actually see the turkeys walking around outside. And these days a turkey that can actually walk is a “Step” in the right direction!

    Thanks for your visit and comment!

    ps if the reason my first comment did not show is that it needed to be approved, please delete this dupe. Thanks!

  2. Thanks Will! I appreciate your visit.

    I ended up placing my order for a real “free range” pastured turkey from a local farm. The price wasn’t too bad, and I feel a lot better!!

  3. I was searching the web this morning looking for Thanksgiving Ideas and stumbled on your site.

    After reading your commetns I went to the Jaindl website and watched the video… The turkeys are not crammed like in the video you posted and there are other turkeys that are in an open area on grass walking around.

    Why would you post something like this? It is not truthful.

    I live in Indiana and don’t buy my turkeys from this farm but I think it is unfair that you would post something like this without presenting the real facts.

    You should be ashamed of yourself.

  4. Your conundrum here is one I’ve felt before as both a buyer of organic goods, as an organic gardener, and also as a part-time member of a small, family owned organic dairy farm that produces artisanal cheese made from our small (and much loved) herd of named cows. Now that “organic” is big business, can one always trust it and does it always make good sense to buy it? Perhaps not if it’s shipped to you from 3000 mile away and/or if it’s only “free range” or “organic” in some technical, legally defined way. Often the better, kinder, and more truly sustainable products CAN be obtained from a caring local farmer, whether they are certified as organic or not.

  5. Same conundrum over here–glad to see I’m not alone in my search for a Thanksgiving turkey (that I, new vegetarian, won’t even be eating) that is/was:
    Humanely raised
    Not fed its cousins
    Not genetically engineered so that it couldn’t walk
    Not rendered incapable of natural reproduction
    Not ordered from thousands of miles away as a chick
    Humanely slaughtered
    And, finally, humanely priced in this recession!
    My grandparents did not have these issues when they ran a farm… How has it come to this, that I have to wrestle with so many ethical, environmental, and health issues just to plan a meal for friends and family?
    And are there any guarantees that heritage turkeys are humanely raised?
    Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone in this conundrum. I’ll go to the farmer’s market and see if I can find a local turkey there.
    Cheers, dear!
    Suzan Colón
    Author of “Cherries in Winter: My Family’s Recipe for Hope in Hard Times”

  6. PJ, look a little closer, I NEVER ever insinuated that the video I posted at the end of the post was taken at Jaindl Farms. It’s a video that shows the horrible way both hens and toms are treated at large farms.

    And really, do you think that Jaindl Farms is going to show you what really goes on at their farm?

    750,000 turkeys pass through that farm (not including their breeders) and you think it looks as pleasant and pretty as the photos and videos they show? They are only going to show you what they want you to see, and it’s naive to think otherwise.

    This blog post wasn’t written specifically against Jaindl, I used them as an example because that’s the company I was dealing with. It could have been written about any large poultry farm.

    I wrote this article because there are too many other farms like theirs that are pulling the wool over our eyes.

    Wake up!

  7. @ Barbara, wow, I’m going to have to take a closer look at your web site. I was happy to find the cranberry recipes, but how exciting to be involved with cheese and dairy farming yourself!

    @ Suzan, good luck finding the perfect turkey for your family, even though you won’t be able to eat it! :(

  8. deb,
    Hens and roosters?? 750,000 chickens? Wow, I thought you said Jaindl is a turkey farm? Maybe your facts are as mixed up as you are.

  9. Then why post the video at all when making a comment on the Jaindl Turkey?

    Have you watched the Stew Leonard’s video on the stewleaonards.com website? It is the Jaindl Turkey Farm. The turkeys sure look healthy and calm to me.. The video shows the turkeys in and out of their housing with a lot of room to roam on grassy areas.

    Obviously you didn’t do enough research before this post.

    They sure don’t look like the one you presented in the video.

    Are you a PETA member? My friends here in Indiana said that the video you posted is a PETA video and that member of this organization pose as employees and go to the worst of places and shoot these videos then trash talk other growers? Is that who you are?

  10. PJ, no, I am not a PETA member. *sigh* If you bothered to actually take a look at my web site content, you’d probably figure that out on your own. :(

    I listed the video under the “further web sources”

    I don’t write articles necessarily for other people, I write them for myself and if someone else reads it, that is a bonus. When I list links and/or videos, they’re reminders to myself of my writing process. Watching that video was part of what caused me to cancel my order for a Jaindl turkey, so I listed it.

    Do you think that it’s all warm and fuzzy when Jaindl breeds their own turkeys? In the newspaper article I linked, it specifically says that they artificially inseminate them. How else can they do it, as these poor turkeys cannot do it on their own because of their size.

    I don’t have proof of any specific process they actually use to inseminate them, but I have a feeling it’s closer to the activity on that video that what you might think.

    As for the video on http://www.stewleonards.com/ (you listed the web site incorrectly): Here’s the direct link to the video:

    It’s a grocery store for gawd’s sake, I am sorry, they are trying to make money by selling turkeys as well. They are going to put Jaindl’s farm in the best of light.

    Remember, they have organic along with conventionally raised turkeys. Those shown on the video could be the best of the bunch, considering they sell around 300K during the holidays, and he was standing in the middle of ONLY 2200 turkeys, where are all the others?

    Did you notice the farmer said no growth hormones in any of our turkeys BUT he also said that there were no anti-biotics in the “Stew Leonards” turkeys. That means that they DO raise some using antibiotics…..they just don’t sell those to Stew. You have to read between the lines. That video is just a fancy ad to sell turkeys.

    By the way, their claim for using no growth hormones means nothing! The US federal law prohibits the use of hormones or steroids in poultry production. It’s just something that they advertise because it sounds good.

  11. I really enjoyed reading this blog, and am grateful to see a thoughtful and lively debate on this subject. I work in the organic sector – on the regulatory end of things. Yes, organics has become a label claim – but that was necessary to standardize the requirements, remove barriers to trade, and add third party oversight to the system.

    I will only comment on one aspect:

    Deb – you had questions about legitimacy since this operation was certified organic, yet still did conventional production as well.

    I won’t say that I would feel comfortable certifying a farm that had what can be characterized as “factory farm” style livestock production – BUT – if all was in line in terms of doing all that was required to be organic on that part of the farm, then I don’t think they should be stopped – or even discouraged. I’m thinking it’s better to have some aspects of sustainable farming / organic practices, than none.

    I’ve seen more “conventional” farmers making the transition in the past two years – and I’m thinking (and they are telling me) that the lure is the increased market value of the crops.

    I used to cringe – years ago – thinking “how can these people be organic if they are not really into it?” Now, my more mature thinking is this – “I don’t care why they have come here – what their reasons are for going organic – I just care that they do it correctly”.

    Once the dual use growers see the organic system start performing (and it has to be done carefully and correctly to notice benefits in the short term) – once the soil organic matter is built up, and other facets are in place that help an organic farm / natural farm function – you see folks transitioning more and more land each year. And why wouldn’t they?

    Most farmers I know – even the nozzle heads on my mom’s side of the family – truly care about their land, and truly care about providing quality products to people.

    Once conventional farmers realize the true potential of organics first hand (and they realize they don’t have to expose themselves or their family to hazardous, toxic materials all the time) – then they are truly “converted” themselves. Still, don’t be expecting all of them to wear Birkenstocks!

    If the public does not support the farmers who are transitioning into organics, then less will do so. If farms with conventional and organic aspects only make profit from the conventional end – then the organics will go away.

    I don’t think caring organic consumers should support factory farm style operations, but I don’t condemn Jaindl Farms for trying organics out – and I hope them some interim success so they start to convert their entire operation!

  12. Yup–same boat, finding a humanely raised and slaughtered turkey that I won’t be eating. The locavore, organic movements intersect sometimes, and one has to sometimes choose one category over another. But what I really don’t get in the midst of all this great foodie/back to the land/know your ingredients/carbon footprint era is why the 20-somethings, and the country in general in this recession has a meat fetish??? One would think that the youngish agri-ready intelligentsia would know how non-sustainable meat production is, methane-producing, feed-eating, free range meat uses lots resources.

  13. Well, this will probably be the last Turkey you will buy from a small farmer, As the new 1000 page farm Bill that Obama will sign before christmas , will regulate out of business all small farmers, Farmers markets etc. and raise the price of food accordingly, You better start figuring out how you can grow everything you need for youself, then you will know it is good, if they allow you to do that.

  14. I too ordered then canceled the Jaindl Farm Free Range turkey because I didn’t order one from a local farm in time. I wish I had seen the Jaindl website beforehand, I was immediately turned off by the suited business man sitting among turkeys! Who do they think their customers are, other businessmen? Then there were the images of their hatchery and other “labs” that looked like something from a sci-fi movie. I prefer to see fields and rustic barns. I’m member of a local food co-op grocery store (River Valley Market in Northampton, MA) and managed to get a genuinely free ranged turkey from a farm 15 miles from me. And the price was only a dollar more per pound. Be a local hero, buy locally grown/raised food.

  15. @Erich, wow, yes, you really make some good points. I hope you are right, and more conventional farms turn to organic.

    I don’t know that it can be enough to sustain our needs though if we keep eating meat and poultry like we do. All we do is grow corn and soy to feed to livestock! And there’s no way that big farms are going to promote reduction, because that reduces there profit, doesn’t it? I guess we’ll have to just wait and see.

    Thank you so much for weighing in. I really appreciate your input!

    @Eva, yes, I know! We really need to reduce our meat consumption. I can’t say that I will ever go “veg” but it won’t hurt us to eat meatless once or twice a week!

    @Ray, thanks for your comment, I’ve been trying to find more info on the farm bill, but I’m not sure what I’m looking for, there’s a lot of info, some of it not very current.

    I know there’s a bill that’s being voted on now called the Food Safety Modernization Bill (S.510). I’ll have to do more research.
    http://action.fooddemocracynow.org/call/pollan_and_schlosser_stand_up_for_farmers/

    @Cheryl, I am so pleased that you found a local turkey! I just picked up my little guy this afternoon. I also saw a 6 month cow that was so cute and friendly!

    I agree about those ‘businessmen’ on the web site. It’s so cold and corporate. I like seeing farmers that know how to dig and get dirty on the land they own!

    Happy thanksgiving everyone!! And thank you for the support!

  16. It is always a good thing to examine our decisions and the harm we may be contributing to… even if it is “only a turkey”. The Jaindl Land Development Corporation has turned thousands of amazingly fertile, rich soil into trucking warehouses, dense housing developments and generally has raped the land. And they are not done yet. If you live in Lower Macungie Township or some of the neighboring towns, watch out…..its a concrete/asphalt fest. Of course, the land is theirs to do with as they like but it does not seem that there is a plan that considers legacy to the community, let alone grandchildren or great grandhchildren other than how wealth is inherited. Don’t count on turkeys being treated humanely when a company is not treating the community humanely.

  17. Hey Ann, thanks for your comments. I am so sad to hear about their actions, but of course it doesn’t surprise me either. Big business only cares about the present, with no regard for the future, unless of course you are talking about future profits!

  18. Wow! Thank you so much for writing this! It’s really good information to know! It really bothers me to know now that “organic” really isn’t neccisarly organic! Thankfully I do have a farm nearby where I live that has true free-range turkey however, they are pricey! But I they’re definitely healthier!

  19. Rachel, I hope you find a wonderfully tasty turkey for your holiday.

    This year, my parents are paying for the “bird” so we are compromising and getting a antibiotic free bird from the grocery. No, it wouldn’t be my first choice, but it’s not as bad as the .60/lb “loss-leader” birds that they’re selling! I can’t even imagine spending so little for a turkey!

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

  20. I usually order my free range organic turkey from a local farm for 5. per pound. Wegman’s had the organic, “free-range” turkey from Jaindl farms, so since I was late getting a deposit on the local farm turkey this year, and when I went there today to inquire they were “fresh out,” I decided to get the Jaindl farms turkey, for a penny less per pound. I too have concerns with their methods, but it does appear that they are moving towards better circumstances..that said, next year I WILL get my deposit in on time and get the local organic turkey that I have had before and feel good about!

  21. You should take this post down as it is misleading. I went to the Whole Foods store and made a fool out of myself based on this website. I was informed by the meat manager in the store that they only sell turkeys that have been certified as level 2 or higher by Global Animal Partnership as receiving only humane treatment. He then told me that Jaindl Farms has been certified as Level 2 on their Free Range and Level 3 on their organic. There is enough misleading information on the internet and I think that you should remove this post!

  22. I think your site is very informative.I really enjoy eating organic and most people that i encourage to buy it like it and keep buying it after.Growing up i was served veggies from the garden and meat from my grandpas farm.I didn’t appreciate it then like i do know.
    Buying organic today is not as expensive as it use to be and you can find it everywhere now.

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