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Monday, November 19, 2007

On Turkeys and Thanksgiving, Part 2

The ever present references, both visual (television, print media) and audio (constant ads on the radio), to turkey corpses, is getting me down a little bit. When I think of the zillions of turkeys who have suffered unimaginable pain and horrible existences just to please our taste buds, it truly sickens me.

After so many years as a vegan (and vegetarian prior to that), it is totally incomprehensible to me that people can look at a blackened carcass sitting in the middle of their table and find it festive or appetizing.

According to Farm Sanctuary, "Between 250 and 300 million turkeys are raised for slaughter every year in the U.S.—46 million alone for Thanksgiving in 2006. U.S. turkey consumption, which has increased by 108 percent since 1970, averaged at 16.9 pounds per person last year." That's hundreds of millions of souls - living, breathing, feeling, sentient beings - raised in filth and consumed with pain for all of their tragically short lives, then slaughtered cruelly and without remorse just for a few moments of pleasure in someone's mouth.

Turkeys are pretty cool...
  • Benjamin Franklin thought so highly of the turkey that he referred to the animal as "a bird of courage" and suggested that the turkey—rather than the eagle—be the United States' national symbol. *
  • Turkeys can live up to 12 years. *
  • Wild turkeys can run up to 25 miles per hour and can fly short distances at speeds up to 55 miles per hour. *
  • Unlike some birds, turkeys do not fly south for the winter. Instead, they continue to roam for food and choose a diet based on what is available at that time of year. *
  • Within just a few days of hatching, poults (young turkeys) instinctively tag along behind their mother for protection and food. During their first few weeks of life, poults will panic when separated from their mother. The poult emits a loud "peep peep" to which the mother responds by yelping and running towards her child. Mother turkeys defend their young against predators, including raccoons, foxes, snakes, owls, and hawks. *
  • Turkeys have a zest for living and enjoying the day. Treated with respect, they become very friendly. **
But the way we treat them is not cool at all...
  • In comparison with the physical prowess of their wild relatives, turkeys genetically selected to be raised for meat weigh twice as much, making them unable to fly or even copulate naturally since their breasts are so enlarged. *
  • Commercial turkey operations force hundreds, or even thousands of birds to sit and stand in a crowded yard or in filthy litter (wood shavings and excrement) breathing burning ammonia fumes and lung-destroying dust, which causes them to develop respiratory diseases, ulcerated feet, blistered breasts, and ammonia-burned eyes. **
  • Most turkeys are fed antibiotics to promote artificial growth and to control Salmonella, Listeria, Campylobacter and other diseases transmittable to humans. Poultry Science reports that 72% to 100% of chickens, turkeys, and ducks have Campylobacter at the slaughterhouse – despite all the drugs. **
  • Turkeys have been bred to grow so fast and heavy that their bones are too weak to carry the weight. Turkeys frequently suffer from painful lameness so severe they try to walk on their wings to reach food and water. **
  • If a 7-pound human baby grew as fast as baby turkeys are forced to grow, the human baby would weight 1500 pounds at 18 weeks old. **
  • Forced to grow too large too fast, turkeys raised for food develop congestive heart and lung disease accompanied by engorged coronary blood vessels, distended fluid-filled heart sacs, abdominal fluid, and gelatin-covered enlarged congested livers. **
  • Turkeys are painfully debeaked and detoed without anesthetic to offset the destructive effects of overcrowding and lack of environmental stimulation. Beaks are amputated with a hot machine blade. The blade cuts through the sensitive beak tissue causing severe pain and suffering in the mutilated birds. Debeaked birds cannot eat or preen properly, and detoed birds have trouble walking. **
  • Turkeys used for breeding cannot mate naturally due to artificial growth rates. Male and female turkeys used for breeding are masturbated and artificially inseminated in order to obtain semen, which is driven into the female bird’s body. **
  • Between 12 and 26 weeks old turkeys are grabbed by catchers and carried upside down by their legs to the transport truck. Jammed in crates they travel without food, water or weather protection to the slaughterhouse. No U.S. welfare laws regulate the treatment of turkeys, chickens, ducks or other birds during catching, transport, or slaughter. **
  • At the slaughterhouse, turkeys are torn from the crates and hung by their feet upside down on a movable belt – torture for a heavy bird especially. They may or may not be “stunned” – paralyzed while fully conscious – by a hand held electrical stunner, or by having their faces dragged through an electrified water bath. The purpose of electrical "stunning" is to paralyze the muscles of the feather follicles "allowing the feathers to come out easily" and has nothing to do with humane slaughter. The electricity shoots through the birds' eyes, eardrums, and hearts, causing intolerable pain," according to researchers. Nor does throat-cutting, with or without prior electric "stunning," produce a humane death. **

Here's a Farm Sanctuary documentary about the turkey industry:

So, to sum up, turkeys are naturally curious, friendly birds. They form intense bonds with their babies and will fight like crazy to protect them. Without a doubt, they experience joy and sorrow, and can feel physical pain just as intensely as we humans can. Turkeys raised for human consumption endure hellish conditions throughout their unnaturally short lives, and are murdered without remorse just so we can all enjoy a 'Happy Thanksgiving.' Is it just me, or is this just plain wrong???

I'll attempt to end on a somewhat more upbeat note with this video of some rescued turkeys at Farm Sanctuary enjoying their 'Thanksgiving FOR the Turkeys' in New York state last weekend.

* Source: Humane Society of the United States
** Source: United Poultry Concerns


Lotta said...

You know, reading that makes me thankful that I don't eat meat. I believe there are more rules regarding animal welfare in Sweden, but that doesn't help much. We used to have hens (as pets) and I could never imagine eating them.

So, I am thankful I stopped eating meat, I am thankful I have a wonderful family (my youngest had her first birthday last Thursday). I am thankful I have a job that lets me work almost wherever I want to.

Adorned by Morgan said...

I'm thankful for that last, happy video because reading those facts made me nauseous. And turkeys are just a fraction of the animal husbandry industry, sadly.

I've never enjoyed this holiday, basically because it was centered around a dead Turkey, and also because of all the misconceptions surrounding it.

But I do agree that it is necessary in life to pause and take thanks for what we have.

chinababe2004 said...


Have you seen this book: 'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving (with story and pictures by Dav Pilkey)?

I bought it for L as a Thanksgiving gift this year. You should check it out and maybe get it for Carlos and share it with him at an age-appropriate time.