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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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Kerry stevens says …

Do you sell no sodium turkey slices or whole turkeys?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@KERRY - The product options will vary between store locations. I do not recall seeing a "no" sodium turkey slices but your store might have low sodium options. You can check with your local store's butcher to see if the whole raw turkeys contain sodium.

Tom Zuk says …

Hello, Do you know what step rating the turkeys will be this Thanksgiving, 2013 at the Virginia Beach store?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@TOM - Our vendors vary between stores and I'm not sure that the Thanksgiving turkeys have arrived yet. Check with the store directly and they might have an idea of the step rating that they plan to carry.

Judy says …

I just purchased turkey and beef from whole foods. I am hoping these products are grass fed.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JUDY - Not all of the items we sell are grass-fed. It will clearly be labeled if they are 100% grass-fed and finished.

donna nouriel says …

why is Diestel listed under both steps 3 and 5?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@DONNA - More than likely, Diestel has a variety of farms/ranches that produce particular types of product. The difference in the Step rating more than likely means that the animals are raised on different farms that meet different ratings. If you have further questions, I would suggest reaching out to Diestel directly.

Jackson B. says …

Why is "Diestel Turkey Ranch" shown at both step 3 and step 5+?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JACKSON - Diestel has multiple farms so they have different ratings. You can find more info on the ratings for their farms at http://www.globalanimalpartnership.org/the-5-step-program/meet-5-step-farmers/meet-jason-diestel/.

Leticia says …

Thank you for offering step 5 rated turkeys! I particularly don't agree with this cruel turkey based thanksgiving tradition. But i'm always the one providing the turkey (ironically) to make sure it's the most humanely raised turkey possible, to support the farms that step up in the care of the animals, and to avoid leaving up to my friends to buy the cheapest option available.

Lisa Smith says …

I'm allergic to soy, and want to know if Diesel Turkeys are fed soy. Thank you for your help.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@LISA - I would suggest reaching out to your local store or Diestel directly to find out. If it does not state that they are soy free, it's very possible that soy is in their diet.

rick says …

So Koch Farms is only step 1? I live in Pa and i have a precooked turkey ordered from your glen mills store however did not realize they are only step 1. What are my alternatives besides not eating turkey(which i now only do on Thanksgiving) Can you tell me where the turkey breast at your glen mills store would be from? Thanks