This article has been updated to reflect additional information from the Diestel Turkey Ranch.
As many Americans flock to grocery stores for turkey in preparation for Thanksgiving Day, one activist group is seeking to make sure consumers think twice before shopping at Whole Foods.
Direct Action Everywhere, an animal liberation advocacy group, released a report on Tuesday alleging that one of Whole Foods’ turkey suppliers, Diestel Turkey Ranch, concocted “an elaborate scheme to deceive customers about the horrific conditions” on their grounds. Activist investigator Wayne Hsiung said in a press conference that he discovered “thousands of birds crammed into dark, filthy sheds” at a Diestel facility, where he says many animals were ill and dying.
Direct Action Everywhere international campaign coordinator Priya Sawhney said that the group plans to protest at Whole Foods stores across the country this weekend.
The report portrays Diestel’s Sonora, Calif. ranch—which has the highest animal-welfare rating from Whole Foods of a 5+—as a “showcase farm” that does not actually raise any turkeys that Whole Food sells. But farmer Heidi Diestel says Direct Action Everywhere has it wrong: turkeys raised at the founding ranch in Sonora are sold to Whole Foods and other retailers.
The investigators say they spent time at an “actual” Diestel plant in Jamestown, Calif., where they allege that they found “birds trapped in feces…a half foot deep in some places.” The report described birds with eyes swollen shut, open wounds, and no access to the outdoors. Diestel confirmed that it does have a turkey ranch in Jamestown, which is ranked lower on Whole Foods’ animal-welfare rankings than the Sonora plant. With a 3 ranking, the ranch is still required to provide access to the outdoors, though only during daylight hours in a favorable climate. Diestel disputed the allegations in the report, saying that the farms are “committed to animal welfare and transparency.” The farm was required to keep the turkeys inside this year, Diestel said, to reduce the spread of avian flu.
“It seems very clear that the mission of Direct Action Everywhere is to end farm animal agriculture and meat consumption completely,” Diestel said in a statement. “While this organization will likely never support turkey farming, for those that do, Diestel strives to be a choice that its customers can feel proud to stand behind.”
She added that the photos in the Direct Action Everywhere report depicting what seemed to be crowded conditions could be deceptive since turkeys tend to crowd together when they’re startled. “If a picture was taken at that moment, it would show the turkeys very close together, when in actuality, they have much more room to share.”
Whole Foods stood behind its supplier, saying in a statement: “Within hours of this video being brought to our attention, Whole Foods Market sent an expert team to evaluate the conditions of the Diestel farm. Our team found that the conditions were not as they were portrayed in the video.”