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Leon Kaye headshot

Coming to Your Thanksgiving Table: Traceability for Turkey

By Leon Kaye

Thanksgiving is less than three weeks away, which means a great time ahead for (most) families, but a terrible time for turkeys. Approximately 46 million turkeys are consumed every year on the fourth Thursday of November.

Those numbers are impressive, or grisly, depending on your point of view. The encouraging news is that consumers increasingly seek a more responsible and ethical meal. That could mean organic or local ingredients, or more responsibly sourced turkeys.

To that end, Honeysuckle White turkeys, a brand owned by Cargill, has announced that some shoppers in Texas will be able to trace the origins of their holiday birds. A code from the turkey's packaging can be plugged into the company's web page; the user then can see photos and videos of the farm, learn about the farm's owners and will view a statement from the farmer.

Honeysuckle White claims it is the first turkey brand to take its products to this level of transparency. The pilot program aims to gauge the value of traceability within the industry's supply chain and hinted it would roll out the program even wider should there be interest from consumers.

Such a move is an important step for Cargill to take because of the nature of its supply chain. As is the case of its competitors within the meat industry, such as Hormel and Tyson Foods, the company does not own all means of its production - instead these companies often enter contractual arrangements with independent farmers. To these companies' marketing departments, such relationships offer a great narrative, as they can claim they work with "family farms." While that description is usually technically accurate, to the industry's critics, the result could be a lack of oversight that leads to dodgy animal welfare practices or shoddy treatment of workers within their supply chains.

In recent years, all of these companies have pledged to rectify any problems within their supplier base, whether they tackle the usual culprits such as palm oil plantations or leverage technology in an effort to improve animal welfare. Traceability is one way in which to build trust with stakeholders while strengthening their bonds with consumers, who have many choices of a Thanksgiving bird during the holidays.

Whether consumers will buy into these stories about teaching valuable life lessons to grandchildren or environmental awards won by turkey farmers is an open question. The more savvy consumers will most likely go a step further and do a quick search engine search to make sure their turkey had no links to pollution or poor treatment of workers. But if this move can encourage farmers to become more responsible while boosting their sales, this traceability pilot could be a landmark step - and could encourage other meat producers to do the same.

Image credit: Pulaw/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye