You may be one of those increasingly conscientious omnivores who believes that even livestock animals should be treated well, and thus be given outdoor pasturage in meadows and forests. You may be one those increasingly nutrition-conscious eaters who understands that livestock raised on open pasture, with access to natural foods and room to roam, forage and exercise, produces far superior meat, significantly higher in nutrition, better in taste and lower in undesirable qualities such as saturated fats. Like me, maybe you’re a bit of both. And so I believe you will be as amazed as I was to learn the real truth about the Turkey Marketing Board’s so called “free range” turkeys, and as you come to understand it, I believe it will also come to clarify why the Nova Scotia Turkey Marketing Board (which many small farmers are starting to simply call the Turkey Cartel) has become so incensed with small farmers that this year they have made a concerted effort to erase them from the market by trying to force them to sign contracts stating they would not sell or give away turkeys (by the way, there is no such reg or law on the books anywhere in Nova Scotia that I and many others have been able to find).
Common Sense Free Ranging
Ask the average person what free-ranging is and he/she will tell you it’s when a livestock animal is allowed to roam freely through meadow, pasture and forest, foraging and living close to the way its species would in their natural state. It is expected that free range animals will have lots of space, get to see the sun, and especially exercise and get to live on the natural foods, such as seeds, sedges and grubs, and all that will allow them to develop better quality meat. In fact, laboratory tests of free ranged livestock show they are higher in nutrition and much lower in the undesirable qualities such as LDL cholesterol for which many persons have come to shun meat. (Just as an example, see this article on independent testing of free range vs. mega-farmed eggs.) Indeed, the livestock from truly free ranged animals can be almost fat free and extraordinarily nutritious, and it is for that reason that at our own homestead, where we raise free range ducks, geese, turkeys, chickens, goats, and occasionally sheep, pigs or cattle, that we never worry about the quantity of meat we consume with our diets.
Free Ranging According to the Nova Scotia Turkey Cartel
I have copied and pasted the regs that define free ranging according to the Nova Scotia Turkey Board. I know it is boring reading, but please take a moment to read it. I guarantee it is worth your while:
(ja) “free range turkey” means any one of a flock of any variety of turkey which
(i) is raised on a feed ration consisting solely of grains, vegetable products and necessary vitamins and minerals and containing no traces of rendered meat products or meat by-products, fish meal or fish by-products, antibiotics or other medication of any kind, including growth promoters,
(ii) has regular access to fresh air, sun, soil and green forage,
(iii) has been processed by a registered inspected processor.
Note that in the Turkey Marketing Board’s own words, there is no minimum standard of space for free range turkeys. If you dig deeper into their standards, you discover a great deal more. A source provided a copy of the printed standards for what the Nova Scotia Turkey Marketing Board calls “free range” turkeys. It provides much more detail, and is provided below. Again, more boring reading, but really, really worth the time, as you will learn that the TMB reduces “free range” to a meaningless term that is really more a marketing trick than anything else. When you buy NS TMB produced turkeys, you aren’t accomplishing anything but paying a higher price for the meat. There isn’t much difference between that turkey and a NS TMB bird raised in ordinary circumstances.
Outdoor enclosures must be covered by a solid roof. The walls of outdoor enclosures must be of mesh or solid construction that will prevent contact by wild birds or other pests. If using mesh, the openings are not to exceed 2.5 cm (1 inch). Turkeys must be fed and watered in a covered area; and, any feed and water provided must be under solid roof to minimize the attraction of and prevent incidental contamination by wild birds or other pests. Water sources must be clean and sanitary. Turkeys are not to drink water form ponds, streams or any other type of surface water accessible by wild birds, unless such water is treated to ensure inactivation of possible virus. Forage is to be at a reasonable height so foraging is not impeded. Following six weeks of brooding the birds will have continuous access to the outdoors. Enclosures are kept free of all debris (e.g. fallen trees, branches), as this may provide sanctuary for rodents, insects, wild birds and animals.
So, reading the above, one must soon ask how is this free ranging at all? The turkeys are kept under a roof, in an enclosure. There is no minimum space allocated to each bird. The site is groomed to remove natural materials such as fallen logs and brush. They have no access to natural water sources. Their “forage” is provided at “reasonable height”, and how exactly does that allow the birds to do what birds want to do, which is explore and scratch. (Truth is, mega-farms don’t want the birds wandering and foraging and scratching. That would be exercise. They want them to put on weight as fast as possible so they can move them promptly to market.) In fact, if you look back at the previous set of rules, the turkeys “free range” food consists “solely of grains, vegetable products and necessary vitamins and minerals”. So, the free range turkeys according to the Nova Scotia Turkey Marketing Board, never actually go outside and never have access to natural water or natural food. In fact, the only real difference between Turkey Marketing Board’s “free range” turkeys and non-free range turkeys is the latter can be given meat products, various chemicals and antibiotics.
The Big Corporate Free Range/Organic Deception
Over the past decade or so, many big food corporations have come under fire for marketing their products as organic/free range using the most bizarre standards. Their intent has not been to actually provide better quality food, but merely to take advantage of an unsuspecting, trusting public by capitalizing on the growing desire for wholesome food. Not the least of which is meat companies all around North America have been caught red handed at claiming to raise organic, free range meat that in no way meets any reasonable standard for either.
Why is this important? So many chemicals get introduced to our bodies with the excuse of It’s essential for agriculture, or It’s to keep your food safe. It is well established that corporate farms’ bottom line is the almighty dollar, not food quality for consumers. To that end, countless deceptions about both produce quality and meat quality are frequently launched and sanctioned. The Environmental Working Group recently posted a study of toxins in some common foods. They found:
- Every sample of imported nectarines and 99 percent of apple samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue.
- The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other food.
- A single grape sample contained 15 pesticides. Single samples of celery, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and strawberries showed 13 different pesticides apiece.
And that’s just in produce. Mega-farm raised meat animals tend to be raised and butchered in close confines that greatly increase opportunities for pathogenic infection and spread and huge quantities of dangerous chemicals are used on that meat (i.e., growth hormones which are carcinogenic and heavy prophylactic use of antibiotics to prevent them dying in droves in such stressful conditions). It is unknown how all these chemicals may recombine within the human body but medical researchers are finding increasing evidence that over the long-term they contribute to the massive rise of cancers, deadly allergies in children and the increasing appearance of neurodevelopmental disorders. Consumers should be concerned about where and how their food is produced. Quantity does not justify lowered quality.
Why the NS TMB Is Attacking Nova Scotia’s Small Farmers
I believe it is really no mystery. There are 19 turkey mega-farms in Nova Scotia. They are part of and essentially run the Turkey Marketing Board. Between them, they raise about a quarter million turkeys each. The logistics of managing that much livestock is impossible in true free range standards. They simply do not possess the manpower to give those turkeys adequate field and forest for true free range pasturage, and such numbers concentrated into their relatively small areas would quickly denude the land they would use. Small farms, which in in Nova Scotia typically means traditional family holdings of between 10 and a couple hundred acres, can manage true free ranging by keeping small flocks of a few dozen to a few hundred birds. The flocks are spread out on a great deal of acreage over the entire province. Small farmers can offer the public real free ranged, organic turkeys. This is something that threatens the Turkey Cartel; something they cannot allow. So, in 2014 they launched a campaign to prohibit small farmers from selling any turkeys (or even giving them away to family members). And mind you, there is no law supporting their actions. They have acted unilaterally in alliance with Keith Colwell, NS Minister of Agriculture. (As a note, countless small farmers have been attempting to contact Keith Colwell regarding the issue. His office has systematically refused to answer their inquiries and deleted them from his FaceBook page. Keith Colwell has been acting in secrecy without consultation or regard for Nova Scotia’s numerous small farmers. If you want to read some of the commentary about how Colwell has been ignoring his constituents, just look up the FaceBook group, Farming In the Maritimes, which is a major venue of communication between Nova Scotia’s thousands of small farmers.)
The bottom line is small farmers can manage something the Turkey Marketing Board cannot, and the TMB really, really doesn’t want the public to know about it. Thousands of small farmers working together could supply the public with millions of humanely raised, truly organic, free ranged and healthy turkeys that would exceed what the TMB can manage in quality in every way. The TMB feels threatened by this, so they are trying to close off any public access to their products. Like all monopolies, they will willingly sacrifice quality in order to maintain a stranglehold on the market.
Over the last week I have been hounded by several persons by way of cyberspace who have dogged my articles, though two especially stand out. One was going about various groups and boards advising folk they should not bother to read my articles as they were poorly researched opinion pieces. The other steadfastly upheld the rightness of the TMB’s actions and stated no family in Nova Scotia needs more than five turkeys and if they violate the TMB’s edict, then they should pay fines. It turned out the former was a Liberal Party supporter and friend of Keith Colwell (I assert again, I have and want no party affiliation), and the other turned out to be applying to register with the Turkey Marketing Board. Thus, both had vested interests in Colwell and the TMB’s agendas.
But more importantly than that, I live on a large homestead in the backwoods of Nova Scotia. I grew up on a farm in the bayous of Louisiana, and my wife and I spent a third of our lives in the wilds of Alaska. We have experienced what real food tastes like all our lives and I have to be honest, what the big mega-farms offer in comparison is poor. Every year we raise our own birds: ducks, geese, chickens and turkeys. Our free ranged birds have rich tastes and the meat has a denser, healthier aspect. Comparing the meat of a real free ranged, organically raised turkey to a TMB turkey is like comparing homemade bread to store-bought. Not only does the meat taste better, but it is significantly higher in nutrition and lower in fat. We and our kids eat as much as we want without concern for chemicals or cholesterol, which is not the case with mega-farmed meat. Small farming can change the way we all eat by giving us affordable, high quality food. I sincerely believe many small farms can provide the world more food of far superior quality than a handful of mega-farms.
And that, my readers, is why I believe the Nova Scotia Turkey Marketing Board feels threatened by small farmers, enough that they feel they need to try to eliminate their ability to produce turkey for you entirely. They don’t want you to try the real thing. They don’t want you to know the truth.
The question is, what will you do about it?