The Turkey and Its Regulation

The turkey never became the national bird of the United States as Ben Franklin may or may not have advocated – but it has become the centerpiece of a dinner that many American families enjoy today. The turkey is, though, more than just the main entrée appearing on the Thanksgiving dinner table. It has also become, like many other aspects of contemporary society, an object of government regulation.

Under regulations administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), turkeys sold across the United States must comply with a variety of rules designed to protect consumers’ health and safety. For example, the USDA reports, in all its precision, that:

  • “All turkeys found in retail stores are either inspected by the USDA or by state systems which have standards equivalent to the federal government. Each turkey and its internal organs are inspected for evidence of disease.”
  • “No hormones have been approved for use in turkeys. Antibiotics may be given to prevent disease and increase feed efficiency. In approving drugs for use in livestock and poultry, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) work together. FDA sets legal limits for drug residues in meat and poultry. FSIS enforces the limits FDA sets for drug residues.”
  • “Additives are not allowed on fresh turkeys … However, if turkeys are ‘processed’ (injected with a basting solution, ground, canned, cured, smoked, dried or made into luncheon meats), additives such as MSG, salt, or sodium erythorbate may be added but must be listed on the label.”
  • “Bone-in poultry products that are injected or marinated with a solution containing butter or other edible fat, broth, stock or water plus spices, flavor enhancers and other approved substances must be labeled as ‘basted’ or ‘self-basted.’ The maximum added weight of approximately 3% solution before processing is included in the net weight on the label.”
  • “The term ‘fresh’ may only be placed on raw poultry that has never been below 26 °F. Poultry held at 0 °F or below must be labeled ‘frozen’ or ‘previously frozen.’ No specific labeling is required on poultry between 0 and 26 °F.”
  • “Turkeys of either sex that are less than 8 months of age according to present regulations are considered ‘young’ turkeys.”
  • “FSIS requires safe handling instructions on packages of all raw or partially cooked turkey products (fresh and frozen) packaged and labeled in federally and state inspected plants or in retail stores and sold to consumers.”
  • “FSIS requires mandatory nutrition labeling for most multi-ingredient turkey products except the raw, single-ingredient products such as turkey breast.”

In July of this year, the USDA also issued a new set of requirements governing the agency’s inspection of turkey and other poultry processing facilities. In a document spanning more than seventy pages and published in the Federal Register, the USDA purported to “modernize” the way that “turkey slaughtering establishments” and other poultry processors are inspected. Rather than having all inspectors visually observe each and every carcass as it travels along the production line, the new rules, among other things, allow some inspectors to be re-positioned to observe earlier efforts by the producers to sort bird carcasses and remove from production those that would be unsafe to eat.

Read more of this The Regulatory Review article by clicking here.