Whole Foods “Humane” Turkey Deception

November 19, 2020 at 4:39 pm

Lawsuit accuses Whole Foods’ main turkey supplier of false advertising, claiming the birds’ living conditions are anything but “humane,” they’re not “hormone-or-antibiotic-free,” and they receive “severely toxic chemicals” prohibited by FDA.

A lawsuit filed against one of Whole Food’s top turkey suppliers alleges turkeys are being fraudulently marketed as “humane” and “hormone, antibiotic, and chemical-free.”

Diestel turkeys actually live in horrific conditions and routinely receive synthetic hormones, antibiotics and other drugs strictly prohibited by the FDA, like chloramphenicol, which is known to have “severe toxic effects in humans,” alleges an amended complaint filed last November by the animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere.

Diestel turkeys tested positive for chloramphenicol,  antibiotics, hormones and other pharmaceuticals on four different USDA inspection dates in 2015 and 2016, according to the complaint (Page 11) filed with a California Superior Court. Here’s a complete list of drug residues the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) National Residue Program found in Diestel turkeys:

  • Chloramphenicol, a drug strictly prohibited by the FDA in food production, known to have “severe toxic effects in humans including bone marrow suppression or aplastic anemia.”
  • Ketamine, a narcotic, described by The Drug Enforcement Agency as “a dissociative anesthetic” with “hallucinogenic effects.” The drug, sometimes referred to as Special K, is used illicitly at dance clubs and raves and as a tranquilizer by veterinarians. Not approved for poultry.
  • Amikacin, an antibiotic important for human use
  • Spectinomycin, an antibiotic important for human use
  • Hygromycin, an antibiotic for veterinary use
  • Ipronidazole, a veterinary pharmaceutical
  • Melengestrol acetate, a synthetic hormone
  • Sulfanitran, an antibacterial drug feed additive
  • Biosupreme, reduces ammonia fumes
  • Mucusol, a drug that reduces mucous in congested birds
  • 10-Med 35, a chemical for controlling bacteria in contaminated water
  • Regano Liquid, encourages birds to eat during times of “stress and disease challenge”

Animal welfare deception

Diestel Turkey Ranch’s poster farm in Sonora, California was the first turkey farm ever to earn a 5+ rating on Whole Foods’ 5-Step animal welfare rating system, Heritage breed turkeys live a picturesque, idyllic life on open pasture there:

But you’re unlikely to ever see one of these turkeys on the shelf at Whole Foods. This is how the vast majority of Diestel turkeys actually live:

Turkeys crowded inside a barn at Diestel’s Jamestown facility,

The majority of Diestel’s turkeys are rated Step 2 and Step 3, which according to Whole Foods, is still supposed to be far superior to typical factory farms, but in reality their lives don’t look much different.

Direct Action Everywhere conducted a 9-month investigation on Diestel’s Jamestown facility and published a report on their findings:

  • As many as 20,000 birds per barn, surrounded by barren land
  • Birds trapped in feces a half-foot deep in some places
  • Many birds with swollen nostrils, swollen shut eyes, open wounds and bruises
  • Ammonia fumes so bad, investigators couldn’t breath
  • Records showing up to 7 percent of birds die in a single week

If you’re familiar Whole Foods’ Global Animal Partnership rating program, you know debeaking is never permitted in Whole Food’s chickens, not even Step 1. But look into the fine print on their standards for turkeys, and you’ll see beak trimming is allowed in Step 1, 2 and 3 turkeys.

Diestel birds are debeaked, where a portion of their sensitive beaks are seared off, an excruciating process that often leads to ongoing pain

Diestel birds missing large portions of feathers, covered with feces, sometimes stuck in feces a half-foot deep

Diestel turkey stuck in manure

Diestel turkeys are sometimes packed so densely they are trampled to death

“Our birds live in harmony with the environment,” says the Diestel brochure at Whole Foods. “We allow them to grow slowly and naturally with plenty of room to roam.” “Our slow growing feed ratios ensure we don’t push the turkeys to grow up fast or larger than what is naturally intended,” the company reiterates on its website. “On the contrary our thoughtfully raised birds grow slowly and naturally, with plenty of fresh air and room to roam, whether indoors or outdoors.”

However, the breed Diestel uses — broad breasted whites — has been bred to grow so fast and big, its internal organs cannot keep up. They can’t mate, perch or fly as their wild ancestors could, Direct Action Everywhere says.

The first chamber of many birds’ digestive systems were blocked and inflamed causing starvation and death in some

Diestel’s response The farm put out a press release Nov. 17, last year, defending their practices: “We strongly believe that our advertising is not false in any manner … none of our packaging labels claim that the birds are ‘free range’ or ‘humane,’ …”

Until confronted by a USDA inspector about their unapproved use of the phrase, Diestel’s turkeys were labeled “humanely raised.” Since 2015, the label has changed to “thoughtfully raised.”

15-pound “thoughtfully raised turkeys” go for about $120

Holding Whole Foods Responsible

In a Nov. 13, 2017, press release Direct Action Everywhere said Diestel turkeys are just one example of Whole Foods’ “corrupt” animal welfare rating system.

The 5-Step Global Animal Partnership system is funded almost entirely (90 percent) by Whole Foods itself, according to the non-profit’s tax records, and until recently was managed by a Whole Foods’ employee.

Whole Foods’ GAP-approved farms routinely get away with animal treatment that would be criminal if done to a dog or cat, including castration, debeaking and nose ringing without anesthesia.

Although the lawsuit is still stuck in the court system, The Organic Consumer’s Association has started a petition asking Whole Foods to stop selling Diestel turkeys.

Not happy with your commercial turkey choices? Here’s a guide to raising your own for next year: