Q: Are free range turkeys bad for the environment? A: While USDA certified organic products must adhere to strict rules, there are fewer regulations for animal products labeled “free range.” So how free is free? The term “free range” literally means that turkeys and chickens being raised for food live outside, get exercise, and are able to actually sustain themselves on the land on which they live. We might imagine these birds enjoy a “happy” life before we enjoy them at dinner. However, according to the USDA, free range simply means that these birds have access to the outdoors. The USDA does not account for any other aspects of the birds’ lives; such as how much time they actually spend outside, or the quality (size and type) of the outdoor area, (it could be a gravel yard, as opposed to a farmer’s field); nor is the amount of space per bird, or type of feed used considered. The USDA does specify that for a poultry producer to legitimately use the term free range, they must apply to the USDA’s food labeling division with a complete description of the birds’ housing conditions. They must outline that the birds have access to the outdoors for a significant portion of their lives. However, this can be taken to mean that so long as the poultry house has a door, access to what is on the other side is only loosely implied. Is free range simply a marketing term? Stricter guidelines need to be put in place, and then they must be enforced. “Free range” should have a set of standards that must be met, and these should be across the board. Until then, we can ask local sellers of free range products to provide information about the farms they are buying from. With some light shed on this topic, does free range turkey and chicken even taste better, is it better for you, and is it worth the extra money? The answers are not clear. There is a belief that turkeys and chickens that are allowed to roam, peck and scratch outdoors taste better, and that egg layers produce tastier – possibly healthier eggs. Whether the birds are healthier for you is inconclusive. If the farm at least states that they do not use hormones, pesticides or herbicides, you know you won’t be poisoning yourself with those. Q: Can compact fluorescents be recycled, or how should we dispose of them? A: Those great, energy-saving light bulbs that save us money on our electric bill have an unfortunate hazardous material inside the ballast: mercury. This potent neurotoxin absolutely should not be thrown away in the trash and trucked to a landfill where the mercury could leach into our water supply. Our local household hazardous waste collection program, run through the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), will accept these bulbs at any of the City’s self-help centers. The closest drop-off site to Riverwest is 3879 W. Lincoln Ave., open Fridays and Saturdays from 7am to 3pm.
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