Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, green beans and pumpkin pie – the traditional Thanksgiving dinner in the U.S.

In terms of the menu, not much has changed over the years. But whether you are paleo, vegetarian, vegan, traditionalist or non-traditionalist, what has changed is what’s in the food because of how it’s being grown or raised.

Genetically Modified Foods

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) entered the food supply in the 1990s with the FLVR SAVR tomato. Twenty years later, ten other crops are now grown from genetically modified seed.

Safe Baby Healthy Child post on organic turkey for thanksgiving avoid GMO boy eating corn

Foods Grown From GMO Seed

Field Corn 90% (2018)  |  Soybeans 94% (2018)  |  Cotton 91% (2018) |  Canola (US) 95% (2013) |  Sugar Beets 99% (2013)
Sweet Corn, i.e corn on the cob, canned and frozen corn (small percentage)
Papaya (most of Hawaiian crop)
Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash (approximately 25,000 acres)
Alfalfa 13% (2013)

The biotech industry is continuing to expand its reach.

Arctic Apples, genetically modified to resist browning, hit the market in 2017. ‘White Russet’ brand potatoes are genetically modified to resist bruising and have fewer black spots. Even animals are being subjected to genetic modification for our consumption.

Because so many ingredients in our food products are derived from these genetically modified crops, a substantial percentage of our food supply contains GMOs.

Ingredients derived from GMOs (from the Institute for Responsible Technology)

  • soy protein, soy lecithin, cornstarch, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, meat, eggs
  • dairy products from animals that have eaten GM feed (and the majority of the GM corn and soy is used for feed)
  • dairy products from cows injected with rbGH (a GM hormone)
  • food additives, enzymes, flavorings, and processing agents, including the sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet) and rennet used to make hard cheeses
  • honey and bee pollen that may have GM sources of pollen
Safe Baby Healthy Child post on organic turkey Thanksgiving avoid GMO girl eating cereal

There have been no human studies on the safety of GMOs and a mounting number of animal studies make clear there are serious health risks associated with consuming GM food. In addition to calling for a moratorium on GM food, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine has asked physicians to advise all patients to avoid GM food.  As of 2015, GM crops are banned in 39 countries worldwide. See here for status on Europe.) Despite world-wide concern and poll after poll indicating a large majority of Americans want mandatory labeling, efforts to pass GM labeling laws have repeatedly failed. The way to avoid GMOs is by eating organic and focusing on whole foods, not processed.

Can GMO Foods Really Be Causing Children and Adults to Have Health Issues?

The documentary “Secret Ingredients” shares the dramatic stories of parents who experienced the health of their children as well as their own degenerating even though they thought they had a healthy lifestyle. In trying to solve their health problems when doctors, drugs and therapies weren’t working, each family discovers that diet played a fundamental role in causing the multitude of chronic illnesses they were suffering from: allergies, asthma, autism, mood swings and gut disorders. Their astonishing stories of recovery by simply switching to organic foods from those containing GMOs is a wake-up call to all parents to become conscious of how conventional food can negatively impact health.

Dr. Michelle Perro is a pediatrician who also appears in the documentary. She has helped thousands of her young patients improve and recover from their health issues by prescribing organic food. She also notes that when they slip back to consuming conventional foods, their illnesses return.

To avoid GMOs, eat organic and focus on whole foods, not processed. It’s especially important to choose organic animal products because conventionally-raised animals are fed GM-feed that passes on to you.

Factory Farming vs. Humane Treatment of Animals

It is estimated that about 46 million turkeys are consumed at Thanksgiving with almost all being broad-breasted whites. Since the 1960’s, factory farmers have bred turkeys for size and the large breast that has been marketed to consumers as being desirable. In fact, they continued doing this until the male turkeys’ chests got so big that they were unable to mount the females anymore. But, instead of stopping, to overcome this problem and to meet demand, artificial insemination was and continues to be used.

The conditions turkeys and other animals are raised in are deplorable. If you choose anything other than the standard factory farmed turkey, you will already be making a better choice.

Safe Baby Healthy Child post on organic and humanely raised foods for Thanksgiving Organic Turkey

Animal Welfare Certifications

Third party certification programs that promote humane treatment of farm animals are gaining traction as more people are refusing to consume animals raised in unacceptable conditions. Yet, standards can differ widely among certification programs making it difficult for consumers to choose wisely. As Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union stated in a 2017 New York Times article:

“The only one we have any confidence in and think gives you value for your money is Animal Welfare Approved … The rest of them have, to greater and lesser degrees, shortcomings — and American Humane in particular has a lot of shortcomings.”

The Gold Standard

The gold standard of all certification programs is the Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) program by A Greener World (AGW). According to AGW’s site, the certified AWA label is the only one “that guarantees animals are raised outdoors on pasture or range for their entire lives on an independent farm using truly sustainable, high-welfare farming practices.” Ranked as Excellent (the highest rating) by Consumer Reports, AGW makes qualifying for certification free to farmers so that the program can remain independent and impartial.

Safe Baby Healthy Child post on organic turkey Thanksgiving animal welfare cow in pasture

Other Certifications

Certified Humane Raised and Handled is a certification program that features endorsement by 70 humane organizations. Their site states that their standards assure that “Animals are never kept in cages, crates, or tie stalls. Animals must be free to do what comes naturally.” Ranked as Very Good , Consumer Reports does not rate this label as Excellent “because the standards do not have certain requirements that a majority of consumers expect from a “humanely raised” label, such as access to the outdoors.”

The Global Animal Partnership (GAP) is a 5-step certification system. Starting with Step 1, the lowest standard, Steps 2, 3, 4, 5 and 5+ each reflect different and increasing standards of welfare. The Step 5+ seal  indicates the product meets their highest welfare standards. If the product also carries the claim that it’s certified heritage, the product meets even higher welfare standards.

American Humane Certified was the first welfare certification program in the United States created by American Humane, the first national humane organization founded in 1877. According to their site, the program consists of “third-party, independent audits to help verify that certified producers’ care and handling of farm animals meet the science-based animal welfare standards of American Humane Association.” Consumer Reports ranks it as Good and other leading animal welfare advocates echo sentiments of doubt about the label’s standards.

For example, Paul Shapiro, vice president for farm animal protection for the Humane Society of the United States has described the American Humane Certified label as being based on “an industry-friendly standard that doesn’t really differ from what the industry is already doing.” American Humane’s standards, at least as of 2014, “allow producers to burn off their birds’ beaks to prevent cannibalism … which tends to arise when birds are confined with nothing to do.” The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) chooses not to recommend this label. And BuyingPoultry echoes Mr. Shapiro’s sentiments, “Despite its name, American Humane Certified does not guarantee that animals are treated meaningfully more humanely than standard industry practices.”

Organizations that Help Make Sense of Labels

Farm Forward, a groundbreaking organization committed to “promoting conscientious food choices, reducing farm animal suffering and advancing sustainable agriculture” has created several tools to help consumers make more humane choices. One of these tools is their BuyingPoultry website. The site provides a comprehensive directory of U.S. poultry brands and ranks them according to BuyingPoultry’s grading system. They also offer trustworthy assessments of third party certification programs and measure them against their grading system.

For instance, Certified Humane and Global Animal Partnership Step 4, Step 3 and Step 2 seals are classified by BuyingPoultry as “Better Than Factory Farming” but not “Significantly Better Than Factory Farming.” Check out BuyingPoultry’s quick and simple guide which can be found by scrolling down after you click on this link.

Another resource is the Label section of Consumer Reports Greener Choices initiative. They provide an in-depth evaluation of how meaningful animal welfare (as well as food) labels are and answer questions such as: Is the organization free from conflict of interest? Was the Label Developed With Broad Public and Industry Input?

Make it Traditional or Non-Traditional, Just Not Conventional

This Thanksgiving, Promote Conscientious Food Choices
That Reduce Farm Animal Suffering and Advance Sustainable Agriculture

What’s even better than an organic, heritage, heirloom, or free-range turkey? A turkey that has been raised humanely. It’s not just about being organic, or about getting a free-range turkey that is free of antibiotics.

Aim to create an entire Thanksgiving meal that is made from certified organic products. And if your Thanksgiving includes animal products, ensure they come from farms that treat their animals humanely. More and more stores are making organic products available as well as offering visibility into how animals have been raised.

Using your buying power to match your values is an action you can take to make a difference and create a Thanksgiving that has more meaning, thoughtfulness and gratitude behind it.

With plenty of resources to make informed, healthy choices this Thanksgiving, you can feel good about what you are choosing to have your family eat. Make it traditional or non-traditional, but not conventional.

  1. Shop organic to avoid conventional food that can contain GMOs
  2. Find meat, dairy and egg brands that have been certified by trustworthy animal welfare verification programs to avoid animal products derived from factory farms.
  3. Take time to let your family share in the conscious choices you have made and let this be the beginning of healthy, conscious choices every day.

Helpful Resources 

LocalHarvest.org Find local food, farm events, and family farmer-grown specialty products.

EatWild.com To find a directory of pastured products, choose “Shop for Local Grassfed Meat, Eggs & Dairy” then click on your state on the Google map.

Safe Baby Healthy Child post on organic turkey Thanksgiving meal on table

Happy Thanksgiving!