Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

The Latest Gobble: Turkeys are Step-rated!

By Frances Flower, November 2, 2012  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Frances Flower

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.




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.
11/02/2012 7:13:22 PM CDT
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.
11/02/2012 8:24:18 PM CDT
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.
11/03/2012 4:19:05 PM CDT
Denise says ...
Which ones are gluten free? I just emailed Maple Lawn and they told me theirs are not.
11/03/2012 5:20:08 PM CDT
Lindsay says ...
Eating meat, milk, or eggs is NEVER ethical, even step-rated...
11/04/2012 2:33:45 PM CST
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.
11/05/2012 9:50:32 AM CST
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
11/05/2012 11:39:05 AM CST
LARRY v Jarvis says ...
Does Whole Foods sell truffles?
11/07/2012 1:41:27 PM CST
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.
11/07/2012 3:42:33 PM CST
Elizabeth says ...
Are any of these turkeys fed a soy-free diet?
11/07/2012 4:41:04 PM CST
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.
11/07/2012 4:58:06 PM CST
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!
11/10/2012 3:37:01 PM CST
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.
11/11/2012 8:31:47 PM CST
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?
11/12/2012 9:47:49 AM CST
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.
11/12/2012 5:09:10 PM CST
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.
11/12/2012 7:55:15 PM CST
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!
11/13/2012 10:23:32 AM CST
barbara la face says ...
Can you please let me know how I can order a 22 + lb. turkey for Thanksgiving. Thanks so much, Barbara
11/14/2012 12:17:33 PM CST
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.
11/14/2012 1:58:51 PM CST
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!
11/14/2012 3:46:14 PM CST
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?
11/14/2012 9:06:18 PM CST
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 ????
11/15/2012 11:49:24 AM CST
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!
11/16/2012 7:38:00 PM CST
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!!
11/18/2012 8:29:27 AM CST
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.
11/18/2012 9:06:08 AM CST