A turkey walks across a field.
In this Monday, May 4, 2020, file photo, a wild turkey crosses a field in Freeport, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Wild turkeys in Greater Fairfield are safe for hunters to eat during the upcoming spring hunting season, Maine wildlife officials determined.

Testing of wild turkeys in the same areas where a “do not eat” advisory for white-tailed deer was issued late last fall revealed that the levels of so-called forever chemicals are within the range deemed acceptable under state guidelines.

“We’ve done some testing and, after talking with the CDC, we’re not going to issue a consumption advisory,” said Mark Latti, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

“The turkeys were lower in PFAS than the deer we tested.”

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Lower chemical levels in the turkeys, limited harvesting of birds in the test area and the small amount of meat consumed by successful hunters all factored into the department’s decision not to limit how much turkey should be eaten.

The news comes after DIF&W in February killed and took samples to send away for testing from 11 wild turkeys in the same Fairfield properties where several deer were found to have elevated levels of PFAS.

PFAS — known technically as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, and often referred to as “forever chemicals” — have been connected with a number of health effects, including elevated risk of kidney and testicular cancer and small decreases in infant birth weight.

Five of the eight deer tested by the state last year were found to have high levels of PFAS, prompting a recommendation for hunters to throw away the meat.

Latti said in addition to the lower PFAS levels, another important factor in not issuing a consumption advisory for turkeys is the small amount of meat that is consumed by the average hunter.

During the spring season, a maximum of two bearded turkeys can be harvested by a hunter in many of Maine’s Wildlife Management Districts, including portions of WMDs 16 and 23 in and around Fairfield.

“You only get one or two meals off a turkey as opposed to 50 or 60 pounds of meat that you get off a deer,” Latti said.

“Talking with the CDC, it was well within our guidelines, so there was no need to issue an advisory,” he added, referring to contaminant levels found in the birds.

Latti pointed out that the level of potential exposure to toxins in turkeys is limited by the relatively small number of birds harvested in the area. Only 19 wild turkeys were tagged in Fairfield last spring, he said, and those that tested highest for PFAS came from a property that is accessible to hunters by permission only.

Among successful turkey hunters, approximately 30 percent harvest two birds, Latti said.

DIF&W plans to continue its testing of wild turkeys in and near Fairfield during the spring season to determine whether PFAS levels differ between the birds’ potential food sources compared with the winter months.

“We are working with the CDC, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Agriculture on all of this,” Latti said of DIF&W.

“The administration has been very supportive in trying to determine just what’s going on and how widespread this issue is.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed the number of turkeys sampled in February.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...