Here’s some food for thought as the country collectively gets our basters ready. We all know that organic food is pricier than non-organic, but Vox has published a detailed explainer about why organic, pasture-raised, and heritage breed turkeys can cost up to six times more than regular ones.
The reasons can be divided into two main categories: Things that make organic turkeys more expensive, and things that make regular turkeys cheaper. Organic turkey farmers need to invest in more expensive feed (made out of organic grains), and organic processing plants often require extra training for staff, special cleaning products, and regular checks to maintain their certification.
Organic turkeys are required to have access to the outdoors, according to Vox, although how much space they are given is not specified by law. (Photo: Flickr/ Colleen P)
But that’s about it when it comes to added costs. The massive price differential is less because organic birds cost extra to produce, and more because ill treatment is just plain efficient. Birds that are confined in a small, enclosed space with automated feeders don’t require much land or labor. Birds that can be treated with antibiotics won’t succumb to disease before they’re ready for slaughter. And birds that don’t move around a lot will get fat faster. All of that translates into higher yields with lower overheads.
Free-roaming pastured birds at Ekonk Turkey Farm in Moosup, CT. (Photo: Flickr/USDA)
Breeding is another big influencer when it comes to the final price tag. The most common breed to be found in supermarkets is the broad-breasted white, a type of turkey that puts on weight quickly and has a much larger breast than heritage breeds. But these made-for-the-dinner-table turkeys are so far removed from their wild brethren that they can’t even reproduce naturally. They have to be bred through artificial insemination because the excessive white meat gets in the way of mating.
Modern agriculture makes the things we want to eat plentiful and affordable, and that’s not a bad thing. But let’s not lose sight of what we might be sacrificing along the way. Paying $3 or $4 per pound of turkey might seem ludicrous to some, but that’s the honest cost of not being cruel. Whether it’s worth it is your decision.