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Why you don't need to fear cheap turkeys

Nov 25, 2015

Credit Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

As we draw near to the annual Thanksgiving feast, those whose menus include turkey may find themselves tempted to pay more for a bird advertised with some special buzz words.

But Detroit News Finance Editor Brian J. O’Connor tells us not to be fooled by the marketing.

According to O’Connor, there are a number of labels that ultimately don’t mean anything.

“Things like young, hormone-free and cage-free, for example, are completely meaningless,” he says.

O’Connor explains that the EPA doesn’t allow poultry growers to give turkeys hormones, and that turkeys aren’t raised in cages in the U.S. Further, he tells us that all turkeys are young when they’re slaughtered.

“It’s just kind of like saying, you know, gluten-free toilet paper. I mean, they’re completely meaningless,” he says.

He tells us that there are many labels that do actually mean something but are very vague.

“Natural” and “naturally-raised” are undefined by the USDA, he explains, and “free range” and “organic” are also “wildly interpretive.”

O’Connor says the USDA has highlighted three useful labels however, especially concerning the humane treatment of the turkey:

  • Certified Humane – “They have outdoor access, they have adequate space, they might have perches, they have bedding that’s dark enough that they can get to sleep and things like that.”
  • Global Animal Partnership – the nonprofit organization has a six-step rating process for animals raised for meat. The better the animal’s treatment, the lower the score.
  • Animal Welfare Approved – “The birds have access to pasture or range, they don’t get antibiotics and there’s other standards about transport and slaughtering and things like that.”

When it comes down to it, O’Connor simply recommends doing some research about the issues and certifications that concern you.

“Do some research and don’t get taken in by these weasel words that can show up on a label that says, you know, ‘natural, free range, raised by mammals,” O’Connor says.