Time to talk turkey....
Lynda Brown - 03 October 2011
It's always seemed to me that SA organic standards are both the jewel in its crown, and also it's Achilles heel. I know how much research and hard work goes into them, how rigorous they strive to be, and how impossible it is to meet both the needs of organic farming practices with commercial realities. For consumers, it offers that clear blue line, what is permitted and what is not. You know where you are and what you're paying for. But they are of course, inevitably to a certain exent, arbitrary. All other things being equal, why should one flock size of 550 chickens not qualify but one of 499 does?
The limitations of standards (it goes for all sets of standards, organic or not), was brought home to me on Saturday, when I went to visit my local turkey producer, Copas. Copas turkeys are a foodie's dream: a family firm who are genuinely passionate about producing the best turkeys they can, and marry traditional rearing methods with state of the art facilities. They also happen to be staunch supporters of their local food producers and community. Their animal welfare, and attention to detail is impressive to say the least. The birds roam in cherry orchards and permanent pasture in idyllic surroundings, are as free ranging as you can get, have open air shelters, relax to radio 2, are not routinely medicated, each bird is individually slaughtered with the kind of care reserved for terminally ill patients, and so on.
The icing on the cake, however, is that they also care how their birds taste. Now, I will freely admit to banging on constantly about this. It is one thing to raise animals with shed loads of tlc for them and the environment, it is another thing to actually go the other extra mile, and put as much care into making those animals the best eating experience you can. In Copas's case, this means raising slow growing breeds for 6-7 months to full maturity specifically to have a good layer of fat (protective, flavour enhancing and health beneficial); plus (critical this) plucking the birds by hand immediately after slaughter, then aging them for two weeks in the traditional manner ie by hanging them up with their guts in. Turkey is a game bird; aging is critical - it allows the natural enzymes to tenderise the meat and develop flavour, and can ony be done if you dry pluck the bird first. Once standard practice, it is rare these days. The birds are eviscerated immediately prior to slaughter, not swaddled in plastic but parchement paper, packed in sturdy cardboard boxes, kept refrigerated from then on, and are ony sold through traditional butchers and farm shops who know what a decent turkey is all about. They've even thought through the cooking: they don't truss the birds which allows the thighs lots of room to cook properly, give you impeccable cooking instructions and nifty gadget to tell when it's done. And yes, they're delicious.
So what's the catch? They produce a lot of them: around 40,000 to be precise (not all in one flock, and not all year round!) The instinctive reaction is to raise up your hands in horror. All I can say is go see for yourself. Because of consumer demand, some of their birds are also raised organically, though not certified with the Soil Association. To qualify, the only changes they had to make were to buy certified organic seed for cover crops and organic GM free feed (their conventional feed is GM). I saw both, the organic stocking density was about a third less - but on that amount of land, it seemed immaterial. Both sets of birds were clearly as well looked after.
I find this frustrating and I can't help thinking there has to be a better way in cases like this. (Ironically, currently their organic bird stocking density is 561 birds per hectare - the maximum Soil Association derogation allows 800). I also had a great chat with producer services before I went. For some time now, the Soil Association has been looking at ways to modify standards to enable an overall assessment of best practice. If this comes to fruition - and incidentaly means upgrading not downgrading standards into some sort of vague, fluffy, fudgy melting pot - it can only be a positive step forward for everyone. And yes, I'm ahead of you: the GM soya in animal feeds issue will be the big one.
Lynda is an award-winning food writer and broadcaster, and keen advocate for organic living. She is author of several food books over the last twenty years including Planet Organic: Organic Living, The Cook's Garden, and The Modern Cook's Handbook, as well as writing The Preserving Book that was published in 2010 in association with the Soil Association. Lynda is an expert on food and nutrition and a seasoned broadcaster, regularly speaking on food and farming both on the radio and television.
04 October 2012 07:02
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17 October 2011 15:23
Hi Lynda - sorry I came late to reading this blog. I agree with you that stocking levels are somewhat arbitary when it comes to ensuring animal welfare, and as you say it's something that's being looked at through our work on the AssureWel project.
But that said, I'm not sure I agree that the banning of GM feed is particularly arbitrary - one of the clear blue lines about Organic production is that it's GM free - and I'm not sure that consumers would be well served by allowing GM feed for animals that live in nice cherry orchards. Still a very interesting blog - thanks!
05 October 2011 13:24
I know we are talking turkey but I just wanted to say:I love your column in Living Earth about making and cooking with yogurt. Instructive and practical - can't wait to try your recipe for instant comfort food.Thanks to your suggestion, I just made labane/labne for the first time by straining (unsucessfully-set yogurt) in a sieve lined with muslin. Added olive oil, chives, salt and lemon juice to make midde-eastern yogurt cheese. It worked. Yum.
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