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How to Source an Ethical Turkey This Thanksgiving

Labels on turkeys can be confusing. Here's what to look for when shopping for an eco-friendly and ethical turkey this Thanksgiving.

Written by
Giulia Lallas

When we think Thanksgiving, we think turkey. Something most people don't realize, though, is 46 million turkeys are consumed each Thanksgiving. How many of those turkeys do you think were ethically sourced?

If you're not ready to give up the bird just yet (psst—these vegan Thanksgiving recipes may convince you otherwise!), we analyzed the most common labels you'll see on turkeys at the grocery store.

Buying an ethically-sourced turkey means valuing the animal’s life and well-being until the very end, and these labels can help you be a more conscious consumer this holiday season. Here's everything you should know before going shopping.

Labels to Look for on Your Ethical Turkey

1. USDA Certified Organic

A USDA certified organic label on your turkey means the turkey was fed crops 100% free of GMOs, chemicals, and pesticides. USDA-certified turkeys are not given antibiotics or hormones, and they're raised in fair conditions. 

For future reference, if a product simply says “organic,” it means 95% of the ingredients used to make that product are organic. If the label says “made with organic ingredients,” at least 70% of the product contains organic ingredients. Both “organic” and “made with organic ingredients” products may contain the USDA organic label, as long as they comply with the guidelines.

Another claim you may encounter while shopping for your Thanksgiving side dishes or desserts is an item having “specific organic ingredients.” This means that less than 70% of its ingredients are certified organic. The packaging may even specify which ingredients are organic or the total percentage of organic ingredients, but the product cannot use the USDA organic label.

2. Certified Humane Label

Free-range, contrary to its name, only requires that turkeys are allowed to roam freely for half of their lives. Unfortunately, the other half could have been spent in inhumane conditions. Therefore, when buying free-range turkeys, it's important to also look for the Certified Humane label. This label ensures the turkey was raised in healthy living conditions.

It's also important to note that free-range turkeys are different from the controversial CAFO-raised turkeys, which are often confided in large-scale, industrial facilities.

3. Animal Welfare Certified

A pasture-raised turkey is raised on a pasture or piece of well-kept grassland. The turkeys are only exposed to the food nature has to offer, meaning they eat things like berries and bugs.

A good way to ensure the bird was pasture-raised is to look for a the Global Animal Partnership's Animal Welfare Certified label and the number stamped on it. The numbers on this label range from 1-5+, with 5+ being the best.

Where to Buy a More Eco-Friendly and Ethical Turkey

All in all, the labels on your food matter, and we hope you feel more confident when shopping for a turkey this year if you choose to have one at your holiday table. To make your shopping experience even easier, here are some places to shop for a humanely-raised turkey.

1. Local Farm or Market

Support small, local farms and businesses this holiday season. Ordering turkey from a local farm helps your local economy and builds community. Plus, it's typically easier to get trustworthy information about animals' living conditions at a small, family-run farm.

2. Farm-Share or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

A farm-share could become your new favorite shopping method. A farm-share, or CSA, is a subscription service to your local farm over a set period of time. The subscription can be helpful if you can’t make it to the farm in person.

The length and frequency of the delivery service is up to you, but a CSA is a great way to receive seasonal, local, and high-quality poultry, as well as fruits and vegetables. Most CSA services give consumers the option to choose a half-share rather than a full-share, thus decreasing food waste. Check out Local Harvest to find a farm-share near you.

3. Grocery Store

You might be surprised to learn your local grocery store likely stocks turkeys that have the certifications we mentioned. When you decide to purchase responsibly-sourced products from the "big guys"—aka major grocery store chains—you send a message to corporate headquarters: conscious consumerism is here to stay.

4. Eco-Conscious Subscription Box

Sourcing sustainable meat can be tricky. If you don't have a good local spot to find a responsibly-raised turkey, subscription boxes like ButcherBox can help. ButcherBox's cows, chickens, turkeys, and pigs are raised humanely and sustainably. We also appreciate that ButcherBox's packaging minimizes waste and is recyclable.