August Sunflowers and Tainted Turkeys

C. Coimbra photo

When August sunflowers color my garden I think about Thanksgiving.  I have to because my holidays are a project. To lasso and corral my family, at the same time, into the same corral,  consumes as much effort as it does to shell those August sunflower seeds.

But with that imaginary lasso in my hand I also cooked up thoughts of how delightful my kitchen smells in the fall: Nutmeg and cinnamon, roasted root vegetables and turkey wafting throughout the house.  Turkey?

Wait a second? Maybe not so much this fall.  The price per pound is cheap, but the grocer’s turkeys  are big ole’ boys, and that price per pound quickly ratchets up.  I’m thinking turkey loaves this Thanksgiving.  You know, ground turkey, bread crumbs, spices and herbs.

Cripes! Didn’t Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation, a large meat processor, just recall so much ground turkey that the New York Times wrote, “It appeared to be one of the largest meat recalls ever?”

 The CDC recounted, “A total of 107 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Heidelberg have been reported from 31 states,” after consuming ground turkey.

 While I watched my August sunflowers expand another inch, I thought we might revisit my once-famous Thanksgiving Walnut Loaf with a soy sauce based gravy filling the gravy bowl. (I  hear spouse and company’s primal screams.)

 Jesting aside, this recent meat recall by a multi-national corporation that operates a “concentrated animal feed operation” –or a CAFO as it is tagged in the industry–didn’t surprise me. But lack of surprise and fact are two different birds.  So I called , Christine Heinrichs, a poultry expert and author of “How To Raise Poultry.”      

 When Christine explained that Cargill’s turkeys are “industrial turkeys,” I asked if they wore tiny hard hats.  “No,” she immediately corrected my flight of fancy, “ industrial turkeys are bred to do nothing but gain weight…hundreds of thousands of turkeys are housed in a structure where a specialized turkey mash runs on a conveyor belt all day long…the feed includes subclinical doses of antibiotics to make them grow faster.”  (For more about  industrial turkeys, read About a Bird.)

 This confirmed the logical conclusion as to why the recalled ground turkey housed a salmonella strain that resists antibiotics.

Christine directed me to her blog, The Official Poultry Bookstore where Frank Reese of Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch explained, “The factory bird is not physically or structurally fit. It has been bred to grow fast. Really fast. To the detriment of the rest of its needs for a sound body and immune system. The factory chicken is a dead-end animal and will die within a year if you do not kill it. Because they grow at such a rapid rate (300 times faster than heirloom breeds) and become morbidly obese so fast their skeletal structure cannot hold the young bird up. These birds can no longer walk and so die from muscle weakness and joint failure. Many of these birds also die from congestive heart failure. In the factory system the average life span of a meat birds is 42 to 60 days, and for breeder birds, no longer than one year.”

Clearly, this is not the bird our ancestors deemed perfect for a day of thanks and giving.

Christine cinched my thoughts of walnut loaf when she pointed to one more sad fact—how poultry factory farm wastes have zapped the oxygen from Chesapeake Bay.  Chesapeake Bay’s dead zone growth looks like the Grim Reaper on crack spreading havoc and mayhem to life at the bay’s bottom.

“Already, fully a third of the bay—once one of the globe’s most productive fisheries—is incapable of supporting sea life,” reports a recent issue of Mother Jones.

How and why?  CAFOs cluster along the rivers and tributaries that flow into Chesapeake Bay.  (The Gulf of Mexico experiences the same flow and complications.) The vast amounts of poultry waste is unmanageable and with this year’s rains, excessive amounts of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) entered lakes, streams and rivers creating a chain reaction called eutrophication. Eutrophication accelerates algae growth. A recent Pew Environment report explains, “The algae may be noxious or even toxic, and its presence on the water surface can block sunlight and lead to loss of important underwater grasses that provide habitat for fish and other organisms. The algae’s decomposition, in turn, uses up oxygen needed to sustain aquatic life.”

 What to do?  For me, I’ll gather today’s sunflower seed harvest and take them to a local, independent farmer who practices sustainable methods for raising turkeys, particularly heirloom breeds, and ask if we could reserve a few for the holidays.

 Spouse  ceased his primal scream and just said, “Your roasted turkeys are the best.”


Author’s note:  The following is from Financial Times.

Farming groups hit back at activists

By Alan Rappeport in New York

Big US farming groups are joining forces in a multimillion dollar marketing
campaign to respond to attacks by activists and small farmers that accuse
them of promoting unhealthy food and abusing animals.

The outreach comes at a time of growing tension between industrial
agriculture groups and small farmers and activists who argue that “factory
farming” is inhumane to animals and produces food that leads to obesity and

The effort also coincides with the US food industry coming under pressure to
contain a salmonella outbreak this month that has been linked to ground
turkey processed by Cargill, the US meatpacker. The US Centers for Disease
Control said more than 100 people have been affected by the outbreak, with
one death.

As part of the push, a new organisation called the US Farmers and Ranchers
Alliance will hold the first of several town hall meetings in September. The
meeting, which will be streamed online, is part of a multimedia effort to
diffuse what the group calls myths about the agricultural industry.

With 50 affiliates, the group is aiming to spend as much as $30m a year on
the campaign.

“Consumers are confused,” Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm
Bureau Federation, told the Financial Times. “There is a huge knowledge gap
out there and we want people to know that farmers and ranchers are committed
to providing healthy choices.”

Mr Stallman said that the industry had been unfairly vilified since films,
such as Food Inc and Farmageddon, have depicted the industry as using
genetically modified seeds, pumping animals full of antibiotics to fatten
them and confining them in cages with no light. He argues that activist
groups want the farmers to return to the days when small family farms served
local communities.

Small farming groups say that such a campaign is too little and too late.

Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface, an organic farm in Virginia, called the
USFRA campaign “laughable” and said that criticism of industrial farmers is
justified because they view the environment as a machine rather than as
something biological.

According to Mark Kastel, a director of The Cornucopia Institute, which
supports sustainable and organic agriculture, big farming and ranching
groups are fearful that the onslaught of negative publicity is taking a
financial toll.

“I think corporate agri-business is frightened about the marketplace
implications and concerned about more regulatory constraint,” Mr Kastel,
said. “They are afraid that the ugly stories out there are tarnishing their

Federal regulators have been considering ways to impose changes on the
farming industry and some states have already taken action. Last year,
farmers in Ohio agreed to restrict close confinement of hogs, hens and
calves. That followed similar moves in California and several other states
to limit extreme caging methods.

“More people are caring about how their food is produced, where it is
produced and by whom,” said Kathy Ozer, of the National Family Farm
Coalition. “People are asking questions about how their eggs are raised and
what conditions animals are facing.”

Mr Stallman said that his group will be working to clarify their perceptions
about how industrial farmers treat animals and the impact of hormones and
antibiotics on the food that they eat. He acknowledged that, until now, the
industry has been overly defensive and slow to respond to its critics.

“We realised that we have not been part of the conversation and we realise
that is a mistake,” Mr Stallman said.

3 thoughts on “August Sunflowers and Tainted Turkeys

  1. Definitely food for thought! I admire that you are already thinking about the holidays. I like when I am in them but like birthdays I wait till the very end before I plan or anticipate. I can never buy a cheap egg again and now with your message I guess I will not be getting my turkey at Costco this year. On that note I had the most delicious vegan raw lasagna bolognese for lunch today with vegan ice creme for dessert. XO

  2. During a period of my ill-spent youth I worked on the Robinson turkey farm. As a result, I can assure you that industrial turkeys have to be the most stupid bird in the world! If left outside during a rain they’ll drown themselves.

    At the risk of speaking heresy, quack, why not consider duck? On occasion we have. It can be prepared so many different ways, a quick Google search produces 20 million hits! Besides the traditional Thanksgiving side dishes go well with duck.

    Whatever you select, we have so much for which to give thanks. Best wishes to you and yours this Thanksgiving…

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