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What is Turtle Farming?

Marjorie McAtee
Marjorie McAtee

Turtle farming is a commercial pursuit by which turtles are bred, hatched, and raised for sale to the pet and food industries. The turtle farming industry is believed to have originated in the United States in the 1940s, with breeding turtles harvested from wild populations. Today, turtle farmers in the United States supply turtles to the pet and food industries in North America and Asia. Turtles are routinely eaten in Asia and in some rural parts of North America. Some ecologists are concerned about the human impact of meat harvesting on the world's wild turtle populations.

Farms that raise healthy, disease-free baby turtles are relatively common in the United States. Many American turtle farmers raise species such as the red-eared slider for sale as pets in the domestic market. Some turtle farmers even offer breeding pairs of pet turtles to their customers. Other species, such as green turtles, may be raised on farms for sale to the food market.

A turtle.
A turtle.

In the 1970s, the United States (US) Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the sale or distribution of hatchling turtles less than 4 inches (10.2 cm) in diameter, when it was discovered that some baby turtles offered for sale were carriers of salmonella. Turtle farmers now generally sterilize their turtle eggs, using a method known as Siebeling method. This method typically requires the eggs to be rinsed and then sterilized in a vacuum tank. The process doesn't normally harm the eggs, and can be used to ensure that the hatchling turtles are healthy.

On large turtle farms, the breeding turtles are typically kept in outdoor ponds. They are generally allowed to mate and lay their eggs undisturbed. Turtle farmers typically collect the eggs after they are laid, sterilize them, and then incubate the eggs in a temperature-controlled environment until they hatch. The baby turtles are usually examined by a veterinarian before being distributed.

American turtle farms also export turtles to the food industry, particularly in China and other parts of Asia. Turtles are also often considered a viable food source in many rural areas of the United States. They're also sometimes sought by Asian-Americans in urban settings.

The harvesting of turtles for meat in the United States and Asia is believed to pose a genuine threat to the world's turtle populations, as about 40 percent of the world's wild turtle species face extinction. Some US states have already outlawed the collection of wild turtles. Some conservationists hope that turtle farming can offer a supply of turtle meat that does not threaten wild turtle populations.

Turtles raised on farms are generally certified as safe for domestic and international distribution by the applicable health authorities. Most of the turtles raised for food in the United States are exported to Asian countries, especially China. Turtle farming is believed to be growing in popularity in China, where the consumption of turtle meat is often far more common than it is elsewhere.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is turtle farming?

Turtle farming is the practice of raising turtles and tortoises of various species in controlled environments for their meat, shells, and other products, or for conservation purposes. Some farms also breed turtles to sell as pets or to replenish wild populations, as part of conservation efforts to protect endangered species.

Why do people farm turtles?

People farm turtles for several reasons, including for culinary purposes, traditional medicine, and the pet trade. Turtle meat is considered a delicacy in some cultures, while their shells and other body parts are used in traditional medicines. Additionally, turtle farming can play a role in conservation by providing a sustainable source of turtles, reducing the pressure on wild populations.

Is turtle farming sustainable?

The sustainability of turtle farming depends on the practices employed. When managed responsibly, it can reduce the demand for wild-caught turtles, thus aiding in the conservation of endangered species. However, poorly managed farms can contribute to disease spread and genetic issues if captive-bred turtles are released into the wild without proper oversight.

How does turtle farming impact the environment?

Turtle farming can have both positive and negative environmental impacts. On the positive side, it can alleviate hunting pressure on wild populations. Negatively, if not properly managed, it can lead to habitat destruction, pollution from farm runoff, and the potential for farmed turtles to escape and become invasive species in non-native ecosystems.

What are the welfare concerns associated with turtle farming?

Animal welfare concerns in turtle farming include overcrowding, poor water quality, and inadequate diet, which can lead to stress, disease, and high mortality rates. Ethical farms prioritize the health and well-being of turtles by providing spacious enclosures, clean water, and proper nutrition, closely mimicking their natural habitat and diet.

Can turtle farming help save endangered species?

Yes, turtle farming can contribute to the conservation of endangered species. By breeding turtles in captivity, farms can provide an alternative to wild-caught individuals, thus reducing poaching pressures. Conservation-focused farms can also reintroduce captive-bred turtles into their natural habitats, supporting the recovery of threatened populations when done under strict scientific guidelines.

Discussion Comments


@bythewell - Turtle farming can't be that much more advanced than any other form of farming in the United States though. I'm sure there are ethical breeders out there, but when you look at the deplorable state of puppy farms and food farms in general, I'm a bit skeptical that turtles fare any better than chickens or pigs.

Although at least farming turtles might help to stop them from being harvested from the wild and decimating wild populations. People don't really have an excuse for doing that when turtles have been farmed for their meat for so long, there are well established domestic varieties.


@pleonasm - Actually the salmonella thing was definitely the main reason they began to prevent people from shipping tiny turtles in bulk, but most animal welfare laws would protect them now anyway.

Keeping them in such close conditions was how the bacteria would spread so quickly and I'm sure that people who treated turtles like that during the shipping process didn't care much about how they were raised either.


Another factor in that law change was that it used to be common for turtle sales people to pack baby turtles into boxes so that they were unable to move in order to ship them. Turtles are fairly sensitive creatures, but they don't express pain or discomfort the way we readily recognize it and so people wouldn't realize that the cute little turtle they bought at the pet store was traumatized and possibly near death's door.

Even now you have to be cautious about where you go to see turtles for sale, since there are still people who are willing to treat them like inanimate objects and not provide any concern for their welfare.

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      A turtle.