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In defense of the turkey

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Nov. 23, 2009 at 12:07 pm |
November 23, 2009 12:12 pm

Every Thanksgiving, PETA scolds the country about eating turkey. Here’s this year’s beef. For what it’s worth, I think factory farming can be a nasty business indeed.

Pardon me, pilgrim: This Thanksgiving, ditch the dead bird

By Chris Holbein
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

If tradition holds, President Obama will soon “pardon” two turkeys — the “National Thanksgiving Turkey” and a backup — in a much-publicized ceremony at the White House Rose Garden.

I’m not sure what misdeeds turkeys raised for food need to be pardoned for, since most of them spend their entire lives crammed into filthy, windowless warehouses where they can barely take a step. But let’s not quibble: We should all follow the president’s lead and pardon a turkey this Thanksgiving.

Animal behaviorists tell us that turkeys are intelligent, social birds who enjoy the company of others. According to one poultry scientist, “If you throw an apple to a group of turkeys, they’ll play with it together.”

Turkeys are also loving, protective parents who are very bonded to their young. In the wild, turkey chicks stay with their mothers for up to five months, and a mother turkey will courageously defend her family against predators.

The story is very different for turkeys on factory farms.

Fatter turkeys mean fatter wallets for farmers, so these gentle birds are bred and drugged to grow so large so fast that their legs can’t even support their own weight. Many turkeys become crippled as a result — and some slowly starve to death within inches of food because they are unable to move. When PETA conducted an undercover investigation at one of the world’s largest turkey-breeding companies, a farm supervisor described the male breeding birds as “80 pounds on toothpicks.”

PETA’s investigator also saw birds die of heart attacks or exhaustion because of the unnatural strain that their enormous size put on their internal organs.

And we documented that workers repeatedly stomped on birds’ heads, bludgeoned birds with pipes and pliers, and punched, threw and kicked live birds.

Like chickens, the 300 million turkeys raised and killed for their flesh in the U.S. every year (more than 40 million will be killed for Thanksgiving dinners alone) have no federal legal protection.

Turkeys raised on factory farms are hatched in large incubators and never see their mothers or feel the warmth of a nest. When they are only a few weeks old, they are moved into filthy, windowless sheds with thousands of other turkeys, where they spend the rest of their lives. To keep the stressed birds from pecking or clawing at one another in such crowded conditions, workers cut off parts of the turkeys’ sensitive toes and beaks — without using painkillers.

Millions of turkeys don’t even make it past their first few weeks before succumbing to “starve-out,” a stress-induced condition that causes young birds to simply stop eating.
When the time comes for slaughter, at around the age of 5 months, workers roughly grab the birds by their legs and throw them into large crates. Many birds suffer broken bones in the process. At the slaughterhouse, turkeys are hung upside down by their weak and crippled legs. Their throats are cut and their feathers are scalded off — often while the birds are still fully conscious.

If all this isn’t enough to make you reach for the Tofurky, consider this: U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection reports reveal that an average of one out of every eight turkeys served on Thanksgiving is infected with salmonella, a food-borne pathogen that sickens more than 1 million people every year.

It’s time to carve out a new tradition and stop thinking that the Thanksgiving meal can’t be “complete” without the body of a bird who lived a miserable life and died a miserable death. It’s not hard: Just eat something else. With delicious cholesterol-free vegan holiday recipes available online and fabulous “faux fowl” in most supermarkets, we can all pardon turkeys and truly celebrate the spirit of the holiday.

ABOUT THE WRITER
Chris Holbein is the manager of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ Special Projects Division.

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