But farm-raised poultry, unlike fish, isn’t in any danger of becoming extinct in this country. According to Portland, Oregon-based Farm Forward, some eight billion chickens and turkeys are raised for food in the United States annually, and 99 percent of those come from factory farms.
While consumers are more interested in where their food comes from than ever before, trying to find out details, especially when it comes to meat, can be incredibly difficult.
“If you want to find out how this animal was raised, it’s usually virtually impossible. There’s a tremendous amount of work to bring some level of transparency to all of these products on the market,” said Andrew deCoriolis, director of strategic programs and engagement at Farm Forward.
Just in time for the Thanksgiving holidays, BuyingPoultry.com launched today for consumers.
This project has been three years in the making, deCoriolis said, to meet the growing demand for this kind of information.
“Consumers needed a buying guide that was rooted in science, with farmers and experts helping them buy products aligned with their values,” said deCoriolis. “With BuyingPoultry, we hope to help people make the best food choices for them, and connect great farmers to thoughtful consumers.”
Given that there’s a heightened awareness about how animals are treated in factory farms, “most consumers know that chickens and turkeys are some of the most abused farm animals in America,” he said. “They want to buy products that come from places that have higher standards when it comes to animal welfare.”
Unfortunately, the food industry is rife with labels that consumers may think mean one thing, when they actually mean something different, said deCoriolis.
For example, many think the “all-natural” label means that “the animals go outside and the chickens and turkeys feel the sunshine and run on pasture,” said deCoriolis, which couldn’t be further from reality.
“It just means that there’s no synthetic or unnatural ingredients in the meat products. In short, it couldn’t be more different what the label means and what consumers want it to mean,” he said.
Providing clarity for those labels is one mission of the BuyingPoultry site, as it includes a glossary for all of those terms that are likely to be misunderstood by consumers. Moreover, it’s also meant to be consulted when shoppers are at their local market, unsure of which brand of eggs to buy.
While some Bay Area residents already get their meat and eggs from farmers markets and specialty grocers that supply meat from small, local farms, more do not. And despite its reputation as being ahead of the latest food trends, San Francisco ranks fifth on a list of American cities where it’s easiest to find higher-welfare ranked animal products, behind New York City, Washington D.C., Atlanta and Seattle.
“We compiled a database of just about every poultry product sold in the U.S. and we graded them on an A to F scale,” said deCoriolis, adding that the smallest farms that sell at farmers markets are not likely to be included.
“We worked with a group of animal welfare experts and farmers to create this system that describes the best conditions and the worst.”
Noting that these experts are some of the most well-respected in the industry, deCoriolis said that consulting the site before you buy “is like having a group of experts going shopping with you.”
To try out the site, I typed in “Mary’s Chicken” which is carried at my local market, to see how it ranked, and found that even when I buy organic, which I do, it’s only ranked a C. The chickens have been altered genetically to achieve increased growth rates, and they have some access to outdoors -- but it’s not as much as it could be.
Even the larger grocery chains are carrying products that may get a “better” ranking, due to customer demand, said deCoriolis.
“Obviously if everyone could go to these farms and take a look and ask questions, that would be great,” he said. “But it’s not practical or possible.”