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The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

The Latest Gobble: Turkeys are Step-rated!

TurkeyBy now, I’m sure you are familiar with the Global Animal Partnership’s (GAP) 5-Step™ Animal Welfare Rating Program at our meat counters. Whole Foods Market® has required our beef cattle, pig and chicken suppliers to be certified to this strict set of animal welfare standards since 2011. We are thrilled to announce that all of our turkey producers have now been certified to GAP’s Turkey Standards as well!

The multi-tiered program rates how farm animals are raised using independent, third-party certifiers to audit farms and assess their compliance to the different Step level standards. The higher the Step number, the more interesting their environment, the more time the animals spend outside, and the more natural their life. We thought you might appreciate learning what it means when you buy a Step-rated turkey.

TurkeyAt Step 1, Producers need to meet over 120 different standards to achieve a Step 1 certification for their birds – including providing good quality bedding (which promotes good health and welfare and allows birds to dust bathe), a maximum transport time of eight hours, and must not be fed animal by-products in their feed. Whole Foods Market standard also prohibit the use of antibiotics for any purpose.

Each Step builds on the previous one. So birds in a Step 2 system are raised in similar conditions as Step 1 and additionally are provided with enrichments that encourage behavior that’s natural to them, such as pecking, perching and foraging. Our producers have found some innovative ways to do this, such as adding hay bales — it’s great to walk into a barn and see the turkeys pecking at the hay, standing on top of the bales, and pulling them apart.  It might sound simple, but the birds really make the most of this more interesting environment! 

One of the big differences at Step 3 is that birds have access to the outdoors during the day. There must be shade and provisions so the birds can hide from predators, and isolate themselves,  so they feel comfortable being outdoors and get to enjoy roaming around outside the barn.

Step 4 is the first pasture-based Step. Birds at Step 4 live continuously on pasture and are only housed at night or when seasonal conditions might put them at risk.  Being on pasture gives the birds the perfect environment to keep busy pecking, exploring and foraging for bugs! You can read more here about what it takes to raise pastured poultry.

TurkeysRaising turkeys to Steps 5 and 5+ is much more challenging to achieve. At Step 5, birds are bred to thrive in an outdoor environment and take longer to grow. By growing slower, it allows the birds to build wing and leg strength so they can fly, perch and roost — just like their ancestors. For the highest level of Step 5+, birds spend their entire life on the same farm. Not only are the birds slower-growing breeds but the producer must have a processing plant on site so the birds never get on a truck.

We’re excited that all of our US* turkey producers are certified to the GAP Program and we have producers at each Step level (please check availability at your local Whole Foods store)!

Step 1 – Eberly Poultry, Empire Kosher, Plainville Farms, Koch Turkey Farms, Organic Prairie, Kopp Turkey

Step 2 – Jaindl Turkey, Plainville Farms (organic)

Step 3 – Jaindl Turkey, Diestel Turkey Ranch, Schultz Organic Turkey, Misty Knoll, Pitman Family Farms

Step 4 – Maple Lawn

Step 5 – Pitman Family Farms

Step 5+ - Diestel Turkey Ranch and White Oak Pastures

So why not buy a Step-rated turkey for Thanksgiving this year? We’d love to hear what you think about this new program!

  • Canadian customers – please note we will be providing Canadian Step-rated turkeys in stores shortly!

Blog Updated on 2/19/2015.

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64 comments

Comments

v vila says …

I am a Canadian consumer raising two small children. I am a vegetarian, but I am allowing the kids to have limited meat intake. I am very curious about your ethical meat approach and I would like more information as it pertains to Canadian products.

art broadstock says …

Myself and many of my folks are VERY worried about food allergies. AT THIS POINT WE NEED TO KNOW WHAT THE MEAT AND AND OTHER PRODUCTS HAVE BEN FEED. MANY of my readers are want to re-back to our Traditional Meals of a full Thanksgiving menu with friends and family. Most now have allergies and other issues.

Roxanne Green says …

I've just recently been enlightened on GMO foods and wonder if any of the meats Whole Foods carries come from animals which are fed GMO foods.

Denise says …

Which ones are gluten free? I just emailed Maple Lawn and they told me theirs are not.

Lindsay says …

Eating meat, milk, or eggs is NEVER ethical, even step-rated...

J Kel says …

Roxanne Green, unfortunalty Turkeys, Chickens, and most livestock are fed grains with corn & soy. Unless they are Organic feeds, commercial livestock feed is enginereed using GM Corn and GM Soy. Most farmers can not afford to feed organic grains, so they are raised on GM grains. AT LEAST they are raised in natural settings/environments!!! Also Bermuda grass & Alfalfa are GM, and used in livestock feeds.

Corina says …

I am interested in ordering a 25 lb turkey for thanksgiving. Can you please let me know what I need to do and what are my options. Thanks! Corina

LARRY v Jarvis says …

Does Whole Foods sell truffles?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@LARRY - Our products vary between store locations so I would encourage you to check with your local store to see if they carry truffles. Typically they are more of a holiday item so they should be able to let you know! You can find their contact info at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/list.

Elizabeth says …

Are any of these turkeys fed a soy-free diet?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@ELIZABETH - Since the vendors mentioned above will vary between store locations and regions, I would encourage you to reach out to your local store to get specific information on the diets of the turkeys that are available to you. You can find your local store contact info at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/list.

Suzanne says …

This is wonderful. We have skipped the turkey in our last three Thanksgiving dinners (yes really!) because of our concerns over turkey farming practices. This year we will get our turkey at Whole Foods!

Christine Campbell says …

Thank you for this post, I really had no idea about the various profiles in each step. Reminds me of a skit on comedy centralisation Portlandia, when they grill the waitress about their chicken and if she knows the name of the bird before they order it.... Anyway, I am pre ordering this year at the store, I'll have to print this to remember what farms to ask about in person.

Anna Stalker says …

I would like to purchase a pastured turkey that was not feed any GMO's. I know White Oak Pastures turkeys are pastured but are still feed genetically modified soy and corn. Could you please help me?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@ANNA - If you are trying to avoid GMO's, the best option would be to look for an organic turkey. The organic products we sell, by definition (and regulated by the USDA's National Organics Program) do not contain GMOs. The vendors will vary between locations so ask your Meat department if they have a pasture raised organic option.

Peggy Jacobs says …

When will fresh (not frozen) turkeys be available in the store? And I hate to comment about people's posts but milk not being "ethical" ranks right up there in crazy.

Jamie Holder says …

I just want to thank Whole Foods for this program. I recently became a vegetarian and work out quite a bit. My body fat went up slightly and my muscle went down in just 6 weeks of not eating meat. I was really struggling to find a way to eat protein without torturing animals on the process. It is well worth it to me to pay for my meat if I know the animals had a nice life and an even nicer death. I will only eat meat purchased at Whole Foods. Thanks for helping me eat meat again!

barbara la face says …

Can you please let me know how I can order a 22 + lb. turkey for Thanksgiving. Thanks so much, Barbara

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@PEGGY - The ETA on particular products to our stores will vary between locations. Most items that we have online for ordering will contain a date that those items are available for pickup. There should be some fresh turkey options online at http://wholefoodsmarket.com/online-ordering/. You will be able to pick your local store to see what they offer. By no means does this limit what is available in your store. I would suggest calling your store to see what they have in stock if you need the turkey before the dates mentioned. Find their contact info at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/list.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@BARBARA - We offer online ordering for your local store on our website at http://wholefoodsmarket.com/online-ordering/. You should be able to choose the type of turkey you would like (uncooked or heat and serve). Most products will be listed for the price/# and you will have the option upon ordering to choose the weight. Hope this helps!

Lindy says …

Someone already commented on food allergies. Which of your turkeys are considered gluten free as well as dairy free. I know a lot of other stores carry turkeys that are injected with dairy to increase tenderness. Is there such a thing as a moist, tender turkey without being injected with something dairy, gluten or soy?

JP says …

How do we know that your telling the truth ? Read about how Butterball raised their turkeys on Daily Mail and was appalled . If there were undercover workers at these farms right now would they find these farms being humane ? How are we to know ????

Pamela Gaynor says …

Hurray for the steps: If we all were more conscious about what we eat, insisted on humane conditions for animals, no GMOS, antibiotics, etc. and--yes--paid a price for our food that reflected all of this, we'd eat less and not have an obese society. I hope to get a Step 5 turkey from you!

jude says …

this is an absolute SCAM! there is no such thing as humane exploitation and murder! that is an oxymoron! if you are intelligent and you care about animals, planet and all who inhabit it,go VEGAN!!

Anthony says …

This is disgusting. And you're a huge part of the problem. These people on here are actually starting to eat meat again because of the lies you are promoting. There is NO ETHICAL way to enslave and kill living creatures. Human or non-human. At the end of the day you are still murdering them because of your desire. Not because you NEED it, but because you WANT it. Is an unnecessary desire worth the slaughter of 10 BILLION animals per year? I think not. These turkeys do not want to be killed so you can salivate over them at a table, so i assure you, regardless of your methods, it is not ethical. This is absurd. I Honestly will never shop at whole foods ever again.

Wendy Cleaver says …

Turkeys are step-rated! what does this mean? To be really compassionate and ethical we should not be eating meat, dairy or eggs period!! while more and more people do not cook, or cannot cook we need more vegan ready meals.

Zsazsa says …

Look I am not some animal rights activists but I can see how you are trying to turn the consumers minds to think this is ok .. Granted they get to be outdoors but doesn't it make it right to still kill them?! They will still stuffer and as the growing demand continues you just won't be able to keep up with the amount of turkeys . I'm not sure if you are trying to folks yourselves or us or both . But reality here is that there is no such thing as human slaughter . If you want to make a difference and be the first why don't you turn your farm into a sanctuary an if u really want people to come charge them and let them make a connection . Be the fist to be that difference .... Tricking the consumer into thinking because the turkeys had a life they died and its ok for them to eat then at the table ... Listen to how absurd this sounds you are only trying to fool the consumers again . I won't be fooled and I'm sure many others won't ...

Daniel Wilson says …

Violence is still violence, no matter how you candy-coat it. The turkeys are still slaughtered, their lives ended, simply because people like the taste of their flesh. It's not ethical or humane or compassionate if you take the life of someone else. In keeping with your mission statement and philosophy, please stop selling the carcasses of slaughtered animals.

Diane Dion says …

The murder of any sentient being can never be ethical.

Vegan says …

This is SO wrong in many ways. And this new program is WRONG. There's NO dignity and "compassion" in murder and slavery. Slavery is WRONG no matter in what conditions the turkeys live, slavery still wrong. Turkeys (and the rest of animals in this planet) need ABOLITION not regulation or "organic" slavery.

Sandra Higgins says …

I refer your customers to my website www.matildaspromise.org to view the documentary You Haven't Lived Until You've Hugged a Turkey. This documentary and the accompanying website gives information on who turkeys are and asks viewers to consider the morality of unnecessarily harming and killing someone who scientists demonstrate have comparable physiological and psychological capacities to our own that allow them to experience and be aware of the suffering that our use of them for food inflicts on them.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@LINDY - Thanks for your question. The best option is going to be to check with your local store's butcher to see if they carry a turkey vendor that is dairy and gluten free. They will be able to look in to that for you!

Erica Bastow says …

I really appreciate this "step-rated" system. I had been an ethical omnivore (I know...vegans call that an oxymoron) for a long time, and have very recently developed a vegetarian diet. I AM serving a turkey purchased at Whole Foods for Thanksgiving, since my fiance and son are not veggies. They appreciate that the meat they eat is humanely raised (thank God), but they would NOT stick around for T-day dinner if it was all vegetarian, and I don't believe in FORCING my family to abide my vegetarian diet. I live by example, not by intimidation or causing guilt.

Todd Nichols says …

Hello WF Folks. I'm VERY excited to learn of your program! I will follow the blogs to learn more. Is there other ways to learn about the programs? My question is, "Do you offer heritage turkeys?" Another question is, "Does step one mean no antibiotics for all animals and does this include growth hormones?" Regards Todd

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@TODD - Thanks for your questions and interest in our GAP Animal Welfare Rating Program. To answer your first question, each store will vary between their products. I would suggest that you reach out to your local store to see if they have heritage turkeys this time of year. To answer your second question, none of our meat, regardless of the step rating, will ever have added hormones or antibiotics. I hope this helps!

David Clarke says …

We contacted your Palm Beach Gardens store in late October to order a turkey for Christmas. We were told that you would be getting about 150 Step 5 Turkeys for all of Florida, but that we were the first on the list. Last week (Nov 29th) we were again contacted and told that the store would ONLY be getting Step 1 Turkeys. This hardly leaves us any time to now arrange for a suitable alternative. Why would there be such a huge discrepancy? From 150 Step 5 down to ONLY Step 1??? Needless to say we are quite upset at hearing about this change so late, with very limited time to make other arrangements.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@DAVID - Thank you for your feedback. We can definitely look in to this for you with the store to see what happened.

Dianne Sahakian says …

I would like to know if these turkeys are organic and the grain food they eat is also without anything GMO.

Kate Stewart says …

This is great. I'd love to have all the meat I eat rated this way. Thank you, Kate

Monika Petroczy says …

Healthy humane pastured raised animals have been the key to health and longevity for many ancient cultures before factory farming, according the research of Weston A. Price. So far I feel better, younger and stronger eating according to Nourishing Traditions book and I buy my pasture raised meat and bones from Whole Foods. It helps to know the steps and source of the meat.

pookie says …

I'm thrilled that Whole Foods is raising the bar on ethical standards for raising meat. I don't eat meat, but I do have poultry that I've rescued, and one thing that concerns me is that these birds do not appear to be protected from predators. That means that birds are being brutally killed and living in fear, and dangerously and unsustainably increasing the predator population in the area (more food=more predators) and making the predators population lose their fear of people, which puts children, families, and pets at risk. Or, it means that farmers are hunting and killing huge numbers of predators, who are just trying to survive, after all, and the farmers have put out an all-you-can-eat poultry buffet. "Build it and they will come." When humans created domestic animals, we bred out their wild instincts and in the process created the bargain with them that we would protect, feed, and care for them. What are you doing to ensure the protection of our fragile ecosystem when you write these standards? Are you incorporating Predator Friendly Certification principles? The ability to "hide" from predators may discourage the occasional hawk, but it does nothing when it comes to bobcats, raccoons, coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, bears, weasels, and so on. Thanks for reading.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@DIANNE - Since our vendors vary between store locations and regions, I would encourage you to reach out to your local store to see what they have in stock for organic turkeys. Due to the prevalence of the GMOs in the commodity grain market, and the limited availability of verified non-GMO feed, we cannot require the use of only non- GMO feed for animal products (including meat, dairy and farmed fish) sold in our stores. We encourage shoppers who are looking to avoid products from animals fed GMOs to choose organic meat and dairy products (since organic standards prohibit the intentional use of GMOs),

Susan says …

I'm concerned about humane treatment of the birds. I boycotted Butterball when the abuse became public. Your step-process says nothing about human/turkey interaction...

Wanda Reaves says …

Do you have a 12-13 lb turkey. How much per pound please?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@WANDA - The availability of products will vary between store locations. Check with your local store to see what they have in stock. They can also let you know the price per pound!

Noor F Said says …

Thank you for this wonderful step program. I 1000% believe in the welfare of animals, but still consume humanely raised and slaughtered animals - it's extremely hard to find that and to trust the information. However, I find your program so transparent, that it is very believable and comforting. Thank you again.

Danya Webster says …

Awesome...another reason why I love Whole Foods...

Rene Kittles says …

Let them all be step five. It's nice to dole out compassion, but let us get to the right place right away if we have to raise them to kill them.

Jay says …

Hi, I was wondering where steroids fit into your steps. I'm buying your "natural" ground turkey breast and it's at step 1. I'm glad to see you don't allow antibiotics, but your outline didn't say anything about steroids. Also, I'm trying to read your website but the black, translucent box with the titles, Whole Foods Market, Recipes, and Blog covers over a portion of the text and it's hard to read. I can't see any way to get rid of that box.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JAY - Great question. I spoke with our Quality Standards team and they stated that any growth promotants, including steroids, are not allowed in our meats. Thanks for checking!

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