The facts

Making sense of turkey meat labels

Making sense of turkey meat labels

How much do you know about how turkeys raised for meat are really treated? We've created this no-nonsense guide to help you make informed choices...

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How much do you know about how turkeys raised for meat are really treated? Find out in the table below.

Sadly, the push for cheaper and cheaper meat has seen animals pay a higher and higher price. Hundreds of millions of turkeys are raised intensively for their meat annually, worldwide.

Turkeys have been selectively bred to grow so fast and large that their oversized breast means they are unable to even mate naturally.

This rapid growth puts enormous pressure on their heart and immature skeleton. Birds may become so heavy that they suffer from leg weakness, joint problems and bone fractures. Their legs may be unable to support their huge bodies, leaving them unable to reach food and water. With no choice to sit for long periods of time, on the waste-soaked litter they live in, birds can suffer from burns to their feet, undersides and legs. Raising turkeys in sheds with thousands of others — and with little or no access to the outdoors – exacerbates these welfare issues.

It is important to note that this fast growth rate is common across all turkey production systems — whether factory farmed or free-range. The key differences between systems that do attempt to provide a higher standard of welfare for these birds are clarified below.

NOTE: Current demand for turkey meat in Australia can only be met by factory farming. But this demand never would have existed if people knew the truth about how animals are being treated. Now that you know, the power is in your hands. Refusing factory farmed products is an important first step. But to end factory farming, animals urgently need caring consumers to also make the choice to consume fewer animal products. Every person who replaces some or all of the turkey meat they eat with animal-friendly alternatives helps reduce the demand that has forced animals to be so intensively farmed, bringing turkeys a step closer to a world without factory farming.

With no consistent or legally enforceable definitions for turkey production systems in Australia, it's not easy to understand what the various logos and terms on packaging mean. Below we have attempted to demystify turkey production and in doing so assist more people to make kinder choices to help these animals.

Certification systems included in table below:

Note: If the production system isn't specified on the packaging, the turkey was almost certainly factory farmed.

Factory farmed RSPCA Approved Indoor1

Certified Free Range

RSPCA Approved Outdoor1 Certified organic3
Do birds have access to the outdoors?4 NO NO

No maximum density specified

No maximum density specified

(only ACO specifies maximum density: 800 birds per hectare)

Is environmental enrichment required in the shed? NO YES
(perches, 'pecking objects' and 'visual barriers)
Not specified

(perches, 'pecking objects' and 'visual barriers)

(ACO requires perches)

How many birds can be kept per square metre when in the shed?4

9 for most adult birds

3 for large adult males

6 for most adult birds

2 for large adult males

5-7 for most adult birds

1-2 for large adult males

(+ access to outdoors)

6 for most adult birds

2 for large adult males

(+ access to outdoors)

Up to 2 (NASAA & OFC)

(ACO not specified )

(+ access to outdoors)

Can birds be kept with thousands of others in one shed? YES YES YES YES MAYBE
(NASAA & OFC max.: 1000 birds per shed, ACO max.: 2500 birds per shed)
Can the ends of birds' toes and beaks be cut off, and can their 'snoods' be removed without pain relief?5 YES

Beak cutting is allowed

Toe cutting & 'de-snooding' are not

MAYBE (under veterinary advice)

Beak cutting is allowed

Toe cutting & 'de-snooding' are not

(ACO not allowed – NASAA & OFC not specified)
Are birds bred to grow unnaturally fast and large? (Associated with significant welfare problems.)6 YES YES YES YES YES
Are birds slaughtered from 10 weeks of age? YES YES YES YES YES

Download this table

Ethical concerns in all turkey farming systems

It is important that consumers are aware that there are ethical and welfare issues common to all turkey farming systems - including certified free-range and certified organic. Regardless of the system the turkeys are raised in, they will be transported and slaughtered in similar facilities, at a very young age.

Birds are commonly handled roughly during the catching process, which is often done under pressure to get the job done quickly. They are grabbed by the legs and stuffed into transport crates, with hardly any room to move. Birds can break bones in the process. Birds can be trucked for many hours non-stop, without access to food or water, and exposed to any weather. At the slaughterhouse, their last glimpse of the world will often be hanging upside down with their feet shackled in metal stirrups. Their heads will be drawn through an electrified water bath to stun them unconscious (some slaughter plants now use a gas immersion killing system) before an automatic knife cuts their throat. Some birds are not so 'lucky'. Those who raise their heads and miss the electrified water bath face the throat cutting machine while fully conscious.

As consumers become aware of the ethical issues relating to turkey farming and slaughter, more and more are choosing cruelty-free alternatives, which are readily available in most supermarkets.

Making sense of labels

1'RSPCA Approved'
The RSPCA Approved system accredits turkey farms to RSPCA standards. Turkeys on these farms can be raised in either a indoor or outdoor system. Turkeys in an RSPCA Approved indoor farm have no access to an outdoor area. However, the required welfare standards are higher than in conventional factory farms.
RSPCA Approved logo
2'Certified Free Range'
Unfortunately, there is no legal definition of the term free range in Australia so standards between farms can vary. These logos on the packaging indicate that the turkeys were raised on farms with access to an outdoor area.
Free range chicken labels

*Note: The RSPCA Approved logo alone does not guarantee outdoor area access - you may also find the RSPCA Approved logo on meat from turkeys raised in an indoor system that conforms to RSPCA welfare standards. Only RSPCA Approved products that are also labelled 'free range' come from farms where the turkeys were raised with access to an outdoor area.

3'Certified Organic'
Certified organic turkey products come from turkeys kept on farms which, for the most part, exceed standards on free range facilities. However, simply the word 'organic' on packaging can sometimes mislead people to think the welfare of turkeys meets certified organic standards - when it may simply mean that turkeys are fed organic feed. These logos on the packaging indicate that the turkeys were raised on a certified organic farm.
Organic chicken labels

4Stocking densities
Maximum allowed indoor and outdoor stocking densities are commonly expressed in total bird weight per square metre (kg/sqm). For the table we have translated this to an approximate number of birds per sqm, based on an average slaughter weight of 5kg for adult females and 17kg for adult males.

5Beak cutting, toe cutting and 'de-snooding'
Due to the stresses of overcrowding and confinement of modern farming, turkeys may peck and scratch at each other, or sometimes even resort to cannibalism. Sadly, rather than giving these birds more space and reducing their stress, many turkey production facilities will cut off the ends of turkeys' beaks and toes shortly after they have hatched, usually with a laser, and without any pain relief. Male turkeys may also have their 'snood' (the fleshy appendage on top of the head) painfully removed — again, this is intended to reduce cannibalism in the stressful and unnatural environment of modern farms. Click here to see footage of beak and toe cutting in Australia.

6Welfare problems due to unnatural fast growth
Turkey breeds used in the meat industry are selectively bred to dramatically increase growth rate. This fast growth has widespread and severe negative welfare impacts on the birds, causing debilitating physical problems ranging from heart failure to lameness. Modern hybrid turkeys are not even able to mate naturally because of their oversized breast — requiring breeding to be carried out through artificial insemination.

Other claims and logos
There are many other phrases and terms used on turkey products that may be perceived to suggest higher welfare such as 'free to roam', 'raised in large barns', 'range reared', 'corn fed', 'grain fed', 'chemical free', 'Australian turkey' and 'Australian made'. The majority of these do not signify a higher standard of welfare than factory farmed turkeys. If there is no certified free range, certified organic or RSPCA Approved logo on the packaging, the turkeys have almost certainly been raised in factory farms.

For information about labelling on other animal products, see our range of handy guides.

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