Turkey board demands all turkeys be kept in the slammer — puts kibosh on free range organic turkey market

Tyrannical tendencies are apparently not limited to the “milk” marketing boards, as this issue demonstrates. There are also echoes here of the intervention in farming practices threatened by the “food safety” bills currently before the U.S. legislature. So here’s “Talking Certified Organic Turkey”, a commentary on behalf the National Farmers Union, by Grant Robertson. Thanks to Gaille for sending it our way.

Organic turkeys will not out and about in Canada if the Turkey Board has anything to say about it. Photos: Sheepdrove.com

Organic turkeys will not out and about in Canada if the Turkey Board has anything to say about it. Photos: Sheepdrove.com

“Many farmers and farm organizations claim that they want a science-based approach to rules when it comes to food safety and other issues.  However the brain trust of the Turkey Farmers of Ontario has thrown caution to the wind and embraced junk science while at the same time restricting consumer choice on certified organically raised Turkey in this province.

In May of 2008 the Turkey Farmers of Ontario, with little or no consultation with organic organizations or growers, released rules banning all outside access for turkeys raised under the supply managed system.  Supply management was established by farmers to improve farmer incomes and to provide a consistent supply of products to processors.  It was not intended to restrict consumer choice or to constrain farmers in type of productions techniques they might use beyond ensuring food safety.  Certainly supply management was not intended to have junk science be used to eliminate a growing niche market available to farmers.

Free-roaming turkeys -- would organic meat customers have it any other way?

Free-roaming turkeys -- organic meat customers wouldn't have it any other way? Can the Turkey Marketing Board really not understand something so simple? Photo: Sheepdrove.com

Let’s be clear.  There is no credible evidence that links organic production of poultry with increased risk to diseases like avian influenza or its transmission to humans.  Ironically there is some evidence that links intensive production to increased risk of disease spread.  However, the Turkey Farmers of Ontario has banned all outside access for all birds under the supply managed system in Ontario.  It is not hard to see this as the thin edge of the wedge in terms of organic poultry production in Ontario.

More free-roaming turkeys from Sheepdrove.com

More free-roaming turkeys from Sheepdrove.com

The NFU has been supportive of those trying to discuss solutions with the TFO that address the concerns of growers, eaters and the TFO Board.  While the NFU has taken its own action, we decided to play a supportive role with the Organic Council of Ontario as they took the lead role in discussions.  OCO has been attempting to provide alternatives to the TFO, such as secure roofs covering feeding stations that would still provide outside access for the birds.  The TFO has rejected all overtures.  It is now time for a new approach.

Free range turkeys in the land of the free (not Canada). Photo sheepdrove.com

Free range turkeys in the land of the free (not Canada). Photo sheepdrove.com

Ted Zettel, OCO Director, discusses the TFO reaction in an article entitled “Battle over Letting Turkeys Outside Calls into Question Power of Supply Management Boards” available on the NFU page in the upcoming issue of the Rural Voice.  Zettel states, “I was very surprised at the adamant, negative response (of the TFO). The directors were incredulous, firstly that any producer in their right mind would let turkeys outside, and secondly that any consumer would be dissatisfied with the excellent products supplied from their total confinement operations.”

It is clear from Zettel’s comments that the TFO is out of touch with the marketplace and the concerns of consumers.  It is not for farmers to dictate what consumers should want, but to find ways to address the concerns of the eaters of their products.  What is also clear from Zettel’s article is that the TFO has become a cloistered and frankly arrogant organization.  Their belief that the Canadian organic standards, which dictates outside access in all livestock production, should be changed simply to accommodate the TFO is mind boggling.  That’s a bit like asking Coke to change its recipe to Pepsi.  It is ridiculous and demonstrates that TFO has no interest in addressing the growing demands of a market segment for certified organic production.  The end result of TFO intransigence will be consumers using their purchasing power to buy imported products, not to drive them to Ontario-raised conventional products.  For an organization founded to grow markets for Ontario’s farmers it is an abandonment of the very reasons for supply management.

FEMA camps for turkeys? -- a pretty picture of an ugly reality. From a story on Free Range or Cage Free.

FEMA camps for turkeys? -- a pretty picture of an ugly reality. From "Free Range or Cage Free".

The NFU will be continuing its support of certified organic turkey producers with a postcard campaign and other actions in the weeks and months ahead.  Stay tuned for details.”

Free Range or Cage Free

Sheepdrove Organic Farm


Filed under News

9 responses to “Turkey board demands all turkeys be kept in the slammer — puts kibosh on free range organic turkey market

  1. Carole Morgan

    I thought “organic” was supposed to be “natural” what is “natural” about keeping animals of any kind locked up in a building its entire life?

  2. While it is easy to understand the TFO’s drive for pushing this legislation (cornering market shares), it is less easy to swallow the Canadian Government’s involvement in pushing for this through their public health campaign that convinces us that free-range/outside access for chickens and turkeys is dangerous and a public health issue. Nevertheless, the government is doing just that and sadly people believe the government because of their (false) belief that they are there to watchdog and take care of us!

  3. pete

    Why the outrage? If you give up control to supply boards like this you ought to expect them to exercise it in ways you don’t expect. You can have liberty or tyranny but you can’t have both!

  4. Pingback: Organic turkeys going the way of raw milk in Ontario? — Turkeys Wars 2009 « The Bovine

  5. Lynn Harasti

    I should have the right to easily purchase free range turkeys that have been allowed to roam outdoors in Ontario. I will not even purchase eggs from caged chickens. It is human to keep turkeys and chickens in cages and barns all day never to see sunlight. To be caged and not able to walk or grow feathers is disgusting and pathetic. Are government should not even allow this type of farming.

    • Our government should not allow this type of farming Lynn! But, like Pete says, once’ we’ve given over control to the marketing/supply boards, then it all becomes about control and money. It is disgusting what OUR government allows (and the public chooses to ignore) to happen to agricultural animals in this country.



  6. Lorraine

    Honestly how stupid do they think people are to try and feed us the bs that an animal raised the way Mother Nature intended it to live outside in the sun enjoying life is going to be bad for us yet an animal raised in a forced fake air building walking in it’s own crap and the crap of thousands more is good for us! WTF

  7. Leah Morris

    Does anyone know if this regulation was changed? (i.e. are organic turkeys still required to be kept inside? Or was it just while there was an avian influenza scare?)

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