Butterball announced that there will be a shortage of large fresh turkeys for Thanksgiving this year, implying that the national holiday was in jeopardy if the American family couldn’t buy a large fresh turkey the day before. Not quite. Most families buy a frozen turkey and thaw it out in the fridge for a week. The turkey shortage, which affects only Butterball and no other turkey producer, may have come from cutting back on a growth hormone that is banned in China, Europe and Russia.
Butterball exports 10% (~100 million pounds) of their turkeys to the world. (Since Butterball owns 20% of the market, the total market is five billion pounds of turkey each year.) If these countries are refusing to accept any product containing these growth hormones for their citizens, why is Butterball still selling turkeys with this growth hormone to American consumers?
As my late father like to explain every holiday season about cattle ranching in the old days, it took two years to raise and fatten a calf to go to the market. With modern antibiotics and growth hormones, it takes six months to get a calf to the market. I’m not sure how long it takes a turkey to get fattening up for Thanksgiving Day, but I’m sure the process is similar. Without the growth hormones, Butterball might have to allow nature to run its course and let the turkeys have more time to fatten up.
My observation at the grocery stores in Silicon Valley is that the frozen commercial turkeys are on the slim side, in smaller quantities and in fewer varieties than in recent years.
My roommate and I picked up a hormone- and antibiotic-free frozen turkey from Whole Foods, which is about three times more expensive than the hormone- and antibiotic-laden frozen turkeys found at the other stores. I normally wouldn’t pay $45 USD for a turkey under any circumstance, especially if I’m out of work for six weeks. My roommate insisted on having an organic turkey—and paid for the privilege. If an organic turkey is similar to the organic cheeses I have eaten, the turkey should taste better, have nicer texture and give me less gas than a Butterball turkey.