Food
Let’s Talk Turkey

Let’s Talk Turkey

September 17, 2022

How to decode labels to choose a better Thanksgiving bird

By Dawn Undurraga, Nutritionist and Sonya Lunder, Senior Analyst and Megan Boyle

Confused by the labels on turkeys? We help you sort out the facts with a new label decoder.

Conventional
Almost all turkeys raised and sold in the U.S. are:

  • Bred for abnormally large, white breast
  • Raised in crowded conditions
  • Likely treated with antibiotics and growth-boosting hormones
  • May be injected with saline/brine, oils, flavors or preservatives

Delicious alternatives
For a better bird, look for these types or labels. Some turkeys may fit more than one category.

USDA Certified Organic

  • No GMO feed, antibiotics or growth promoters
  • Outdoor access

Heritage or Heirloom

  • Descended from a historic breed to preserve genetic diversity and prevent extinction.
  • Tend to be smaller than conventional turkeys
  • True heritage turkeys should be bred by natural mating and raised mostly outdoors

Humanely raised

These animal welfare certifications ensure that turkeys have meaningful outdoor access and are raised without antibiotics or growth promoters.

  • Certified Humane
  • Global Animal Partnership – Steps 3-5+
  • Animal Welfare Approved

Pasture raised

These turkeys are raised mostly outdoors, but how much varies. The animal welfare certifications above help confirm that they have adequate time outdoors. 

Labels that don’t mean much
Don’t be fooled by these labeling claims.

“Sustainable”
No standard definition – contact the producer for details.

“Free range”
These turkeys get less outdoor access than you think – they’re raised mostly indoors.

“Natural”
Questionable. The only clear benefit is that turkeys cannot be injected with colors or artificial flavors. Natural flavors may be allowed.

Learn more about healthy holiday meals: ewg.org/foodscores/holiday

Click here to download the new label decoder.

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