In 2013, more than 240.0 million turkeys were bred for slaughter. More than 200 million were consumed in the United States alone. We estimate that 46 million of those turkeys were eaten at Thanksgiving, 22 million at Christmas and 19 million at Easter.
Nearly 88 percent of Americans surveyed by the National Turkey Federation eat turkey at Thanksgiving. The average weight of turkeys purchased for Thanksgiving is 16 pounds, meaning that approximately 736 million pounds of turkey were consumed in the United States during Thanksgiving in 2012.
Poultry scientist Tom Savage has spoken out about the ‘dumb and ugly’ tag that turkeys are so often given as an excuse for them to be killed and eaten with a clean conscious. “I’ve always viewed turkeys as smart animals with personality and character, and keen awareness of their surroundings. The ‘dumb’ tag simply doesn’t fit.” They’re as interesting and have personalities every bit as developed as those of any dog or cat.
When they’re not forced to live on filthy factory farms, turkeys spend their days caring for their young, building nests, foraging for food, taking dust baths, preening themselves, and roosting high in trees. These social, playful birds relish having their feathers stroked and like to chirp, cluck, and gobble along to music – much like the behaviour of parrots.
When these wild, majestic animals are forced into factory farms they are denied everything that is natural and important to them. In nature, turkeys can fly 55 miles an hour, run 25 miles an hour, and live up to four years. Yet turkeys raised for food are killed when they are only 5 or 6 months old. During their short lives, they will be denied even the simplest pleasures, such as running, building nests, and raising their young.
Apart from the shocking ethical dilemmas behind eating turkey there are also some serious health implications for the consumer. Turkey flesh is brimming with fat and cholesterol. Just one homemade patty of ground, cooked turkey meat contains a whopping 244 mg of cholesterol, and half of its calories come from fat. Turkey flesh is also frequently tainted with salmonella, campylobacter bacteria, and other contaminants. By comparison, no vegan meal would leave you lying on the floor, belt buckle undone, in another ‘Thanksgiving food coma’. That feeling is not healthy and is simply your body’s way of showing you that what you have just consumed is not meant for it.
On top of that, current factory-farm conditions are breeding grounds for disease. Turkeys are drugged and bred to grow so quickly that many become crippled and die from dehydration. Cooking meat should kill the bird flu virus, but it can be left behind on cutting boards and utensils and spread through something else you’re eating.
Dosing turkeys with antibiotics to stimulate their growth and to keep them alive in filthy, disease-ridden conditions that would otherwise kill them poses even more risks for people who eat them. Leading health organizations—including the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and the American Public Health Association—have warned that the factory farming industry is possibly creating long-term risks to human health through the spread of antibiotic-resistant ‘supergerms’. That’s why the use of drugs to promote growth in animals used for food has been banned for many years in Europe.
When the time comes for slaughter, turkeys are thrown into transport trucks. At the slaughterhouse, they are hung upside-down and their heads are dragged through an electrified “stunning tank,” which immobilizes them but does not kill them. Many birds dodge the tank and are still conscious when their throats are cut. If the knife fails to properly cut the birds’ throats, the birds are scalded to death in the defeathering tanks. Is that really what you want to be merrily consuming this winter?
If you are wondering what on earth am I supposed to eat for the holidays, then look no further than these humane alternatives: Tofurky, Celebration Roast, and Garden Protein’s new Veggie Turkey Breast With Wild Rice and Cranberry Stuffing. Also, you can find on PETA’s website some scrumptious holiday recipes will please every palate and make it easier to give up the giblets.
If ethical and health implications weren’t enough to sway you to steer clear of our feathered friends then at least consider the damage you do to the environment. Turkeys and other animals raised for food produce 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population—all without the benefit of waste-treatment systems. There are no federal guidelines to regulate how factory farms treat, store, and dispose of the trillions of pounds of concentrated, untreated animal excrement that they produce each year.
Turkeys have to be fed grains, soy, oats, and corn that could otherwise be fed to human beings. Only a fraction of the calories fed to a turkey are turned into meat calories. While there is ample and justified moral indignation about the diversion of 100 million tons of grain for biofuels, more than seven times as much (760 million tons) is fed to farmed animals so that people can eat meat. Is the diversion of crops to our cars a moral issue? Yes, but it’s about one-eighth the issue that meat-eating is.
The main reason to ditch the meat this year is because while you sit down to give thanks or sing Christmas carols, you need to remember that turkeys have nothing to be thankful for. On factory farms, turkeys live for months in sheds where they are packed so tightly that flapping a wing or stretching a leg is nearly impossible. They stand mired in waste; urine and ammonia fumes burn their eyes and lungs. To keep the birds from killing one another in these crowded conditions, parts of the turkeys’ toes and beaks are cut off, as are the males’ snoods (the flap of skin under the chin). All this is done without any pain relievers.
A PETA investigator recently went undercover at a massive turkey-breeding facility in West Virginia and documented workers stomping on turkeys, punching them, beating them with pipes and boards, and twisting their necks repeatedly. One worker even bragged about shoving a broomstick down a turkey’s throat because the bird had pecked at him. Our previous investigations show that such gratuitous abuse is the norm on turkey farms.
So please, this holiday season, think about those who you are affecting and consider if you can be truly merry while they lie on your plates.