It all started with turkey. (The bird, not the country.) Personally, I’m partial to meat without loads of hormones and antibiotics in it (plus I’m allergic to gluten), so I tend to read food labels in detail. So when I read “All Natural” on the front of the Butterball ground turkey package, my first thought was: “what does that mean?” There are plenty of things that are “natural” but that doesn’t always equate to “good.” Cyanide, mercury and lead can fall under the general category of something natural, after all. Fortunately the USDA has a handy little glossary of meat and poultry labeling terms that defines what “natural” means when it comes to that innocuous little packet of Butterball ground turkey, as certified by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
Turns out, an “All Natural” label on meat, which is likely aimed at people with some level of concern about health or perhaps animal rights issues, just means there is no nitrite present in the meat; it has nothing to do with Butterball’s environmental track record or about practices on the poultry facilities. In fact, the Humane Society of the United States has accused Butterball of animal cruelty, and a Mercy For Animals investigation in 2012 revealed a pattern of animal abuse and neglect at several facilities in North Carolina. So just because the turkey comes along in a pleasing package with green accents and the words “All Natural” on the front, doesn’t mean that the turkey frolicked in green pastures with its turkey friends, having turkey fun, without being pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics and living out its days in cramped, dark, dingy places like something from a B horror film (if that’s something that is important to you as a consumer).