Whole Foods “Humane” Turkey Deception

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:


10 responses to “Whole Foods “Humane” Turkey Deception”

  1. D.P. Avatar

    That is disgusting-they should be put out of business-where the hell is the FDA?

    1. Brad Avatar

      I can tell you this whole article is a bunch of bullshit. All the birds are 100% grain fed.

      1. Sara Burrows Avatar

        What does them being grain-fed have to do with anything? This is about falsely advertising that the birds are hormone and antibiotic free and the fact that they contain FDA-prohibited drugs.

        Do you have eyes? Did you see the photos? There is nothing “humane” or “thoughtful” about these turkeys and it’s a disgrace that Whole Foods sells them.

        1. Doug Avatar

          Go to a turkey farm, take a look, and see how you have been deceived. These articles are BS.

    2. Lana Avatar

      FDA doesn’t care , they are bought like everyone else, their “standards” are ridiculous

  2. anna Avatar

    I almost shared this but decided to look it up first. I found no other place online that talks about these chemicals. Makes me think this is bogus.

    1. Sara Burrows Avatar

      Read the lawsuit, page 11, there is a link to the USDA inspections, but of course it’s not working right now. The lawsuit has details about the amounts of each chemical found.

  3. trumpt blast Avatar
    trumpt blast

    They seem to be housing turkeys in buildings designed for chickens I’ve seen chicken barbs holding 30’000 chicks in the same sized barbs that have more room to move than those 20’000 turkeys !! And the chicken barbs are far cleaner !!

  4. Merle Avatar

    This is a Feb 2018 response from Diestel to my local natural food store manager who asked about the reported lawsuit just filed against Diestel and toxins found in the birds. “Thanks so much for reaching out. This is the same article from this past holiday which are not accurate. Below is our statement but furthermore over the last two months we have been working on an updated statement with support from the USDA reinforcing that our label claims including antibiotic free are approved and validated. Once we have this statement I will pass it along to you and we will be reaching out to these publications to also consider updating their article to include this information.”

    Diestel Statement
    The information provided by DxE by way of the Return to Now.net is false. Our processing facilities are continuously inspected and monitored under the USDA’s FSIS National Residue Program. Under this program, the USDA pulls product at random and tests for more than a dozen prohibited substance categories. The results of all samples tested under the national residue program throughout 2015 and 2016, the period noted in DxE’s second complaint, show negative results, indicating that Diestel’s products were free from residue of prohibited substances. Diestel’s turkeys are raised without the use of antibiotics, growth stimulants or hormones. We highly value third party organizations like the USDA, which inspects our processing plants, and the Global Animal Partnership and Oregon Tilth Certified Organic, which conducts regular audits of our farms, as they validate our farming practices. DxE’s allegations are false and misrepresent the farm and the family’s sustainable farming practices.

    We pride ourselves on the treatment of our turkeys and being transparent to our consumers, which is why we take great care to ensure our marketing accurately reflects our farming and processing practices. It seems very clear that the mission of Direct Action Everywhere is to end farm animal agriculture and meat consumption completely. While this organization will never support turkey farming, for those that do, Diestel strives to be a choice that its customers can feel proud to stand behind.

    Linked HERE is formal statement regarding this matter and I have also attached it to this email if you would like to print this statement for your customers. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need anything else.

    Best, Heidi

  5. Alesha Avatar

    Such crap Heidi. A majority of your turkeys are not from your gorgeous “on site” location in Sonora. You have other locations near Jamestown that have “factory” type conditions and none of the humane claims you make. I used to buy your products religiously believing you sought to do the right thing, that your farm took the upmost humane measures to raise turkeys. It is sick the amount of research I have done on you. Anyone with half a brain could research you and google earth your other locations. I hope your greed for profit helps you sleep comfortably at night while helpless turkeys die and live in filth under your hand.