The hidden cost of cheap turkeys

Birds from industrial farms appear to be less expensive than naturally raised birds, say Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman at The Atlantic. But look closer, and the math is not so clear

Heritage turkeys are capable of natural mating, running and flying.
(Image credit: CC BY: ExperienceLA)

For the majority of Americans, the traditional Thanksgiving feast includes a very large, very cheap turkey, say Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman, ranchers who specialize in humane meats, at The Atlantic. Many supermarkets are offering "frozen commodity turkeys" raised on giant factory farms for as little as $1.50 a pound — a snip when compared to heritage birds costing around $7 a pound. Chefs insist the extra money buys you superior flavor, while "many consumers, especially if they haven't tasted a heritage turkey, wonder whether that splurge is really worth it." But when you calculate the hidden costs of mass-produced Broad-Breasted White turkeys, which are bred to have breasts so oversized they are "incapable of flight or natural mating," heritage birds don't seem so expensive. Here, an excerpt:

In many ways the commodity turkey is artificially cheap. In the immediate sense, industrial methods do lower production costs. These include intensive crowding in metal confinement buildings; minimal human care, made possible by total confinement and mechanized feed and water systems; and reliance on cheap feeds (often including slaughterhouse wastes and a panoply of pharmaceuticals). Government subsidies and lax enforcement of environmental laws also enable (and cheapen) industrial food production. The result of this system is water, air, and soil polluted by agricultural waste; meat with high levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria; and animal suffering on an unprecedented scale. Although these costs don't show up on our grocery receipts, they are real and, ultimately, we all pay them.

Read the full article at The Atlantic.

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