For those who haven’t yet purchased a Thanksgiving bird, a few words from our green expert Joyce Newman on “free-range” turkey.
Did you know that the term, “free-range,” often used on menus and turkey labels, doesn’t mean the birds actually went outside. Yes, it’s true!
In fact, according to government rules, turkey and other poultry producers just need to create “access to open air” for the turkeys. The amount of time they actually spend with this “access” isn’t specified and it could be just a few minutes a day in a screened enclosure.
Also, if you see the words “hormone-free” on poultry, be aware that marketers aren’t really being up front with you, since by law, poultry and pigs cannot be given hormones in the U.S.
Which claims can you trust? According to food experts at Consumer Reports, these five “good” labels are actually meaningful on turkey or other poultry:
- “ USDA Organic”
- “ USDA Process Verified”
- “American grass-fed certified”
- “Animal welfare-approved”
- “Certified humane”
- “No antibiotics used” (also, “raised without antibiotics” and “no antibiotics ever”)
Watch out for similar-sounding terms that are not approved by the federal government including “antibiotic free” and “no antibiotic residues.” The USDA does not authorize the use of these terms and in most cases, antibiotics were heavily used while raising the birds but were stopped for a certain period (days or weeks) before slaughter—to bring drug residue levels down below acceptable FDA thresholds.
Just some food for thought.
—Joyce H. Newman
Joyce H. Newman, a Garden Variety contributing writer, covers gardening topics, food matters and environmental issues. The former editor of Consumer Reports GreenerChoices.org, which evaluates environmental claims on green product labels, she holds a certificate in horticulture from the New York Botanical Garden.