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NFM Secret Shopper: Why should I pay more for a free-range turkey?NFM Secret Shopper: Why should I pay more for a free-range turkey?

Free-range birds cost much more than conventional options. Are they really worth it? NFM goes undercover to investigate.

NFM Staff

October 30, 2013

2 Min Read
NFM Secret Shopper: Why should I pay more for a free-range turkey?

Natural Foods Merchandiser: Why should I spend more for a free-range turkey?  

Store:The biggest reason for me is they taste so much better! The meat’s really tender and juicy. But I think it’s also important because free-range turkeys have been raised in good conditions, with plenty of room to roam and forage. Plus, they’re not given antibiotics.

NFM:Is that always the case? If the label says free range, I can be sure antibiotics haven’t been used?

Store:Well, most of the time, yes. We only carry meat that’s antibiotic free. I guess I’m not 100 percent sure if free-range turkeys sold elsewhere are too. So buy your turkey from us!

How did this retailer do?

Our expert educator: Adele Douglass, CEO of Humane Farm Animal Care, the nonprofit Certified Humane Raised & Handled certification organization

Based on this retailer’s response, if I were the customer, I wouldn’t have much confidence in the store’s turkeys and therefore wouldn’t pay more for one. The actual definition of free range is outdoor access. But that doesn’t mean free-range turkeys actually go outdoors or that they’re antibiotic free. U.S. Department of Agriculture Organic turkeys, on the other hand, are ensured outside access, but even that’s “weather permitting.” There are no standards for when the birds are in barns, and in many parts of the country, that’s most of the year.

Rather than focus on free range, I recommend retailers sell turkeys that are USDA Organic, Certified Humane or Animal Welfare Approved. These certifications are better defined and easier to convey to shoppers. Certified Humane turkeys can be raised on pastures or in barns, but in both instances, thorough standards exist regarding space, air quality and other aspects that meet the birds’ behavioral and physiological needs. The Animal Welfare Approved program is strictly for pasture-raised turkeys.

Shoppers ask retailers about these seals all the time, so make sure your staff can explain them correctly.

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