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The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

The Latest Gobble: Turkeys are Step-rated!

By 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.

At 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.

Raising 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.