Many Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving day without giving it a thought on how their turkey was raised or what their turkey was fed. The grim reality of the Thanksgiving turkey from factory farms is an issue that needs to be addressed. For vegans, we know this doesn’t apply to you and we respect your choice not to eat meat. The purpose of this article is to educate those who do choose to eat turkey so that they can make a wiser choice in when purchasing their Thanksgiving turkey.
How They Are Raised
No animals raised on factory farms are kept and killed under worse conditions than turkeys and chickens, which make up most of the animals raised for food in the U.S. Nearly 9 billion chickens are slaughtered each year for food. And because poultry is exempt from the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture enforces, there are not even minimum federal standards governing how they live or die.
Turkeys and so-called broiler chickens are genetically bred to grow fast (to satisfy our love for breast meat) and, typically, grow so big that they can barely walk by the time they are killed. As a result, they can suffer from painful skeletal disorders and leg deformities. The vast majority spend their short lives (about 47 days for chickens) in artificially lit, windowless, barren warehouse barns. So that turkeys won’t peck one another in these crowded barns, their beaks are painfully trimmed.
When it’s time to slaughter them, the live birds are shackled upside down on a conveyor belt, paralyzed by electrified water and then dragged over mechanical throat-cutting blades. The birds are supposed to be stunned unconscious by the electrified water, but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the birds miss the blades and end up tumbling into the tanks of scalding water, where they drown. These methods are so cruel that they would be prohibited by federal welfare laws — if the animals in question were cows or pigs.
The Humane Society of the U.S. has launched a campaign to get producers to pledge to raise healthier, less bloated birds, to provide them with better living conditions — more space, more stimulating environments and more sunlight — and, perhaps most important, to render the birds unconscious before they are shackled and slaughtered. The campaign also seeks to persuade buyers to obtain meat only from producers that honor this pledge. Meanwhile, Temple Grandin, the animal science professor known for designing more humane procedures for slaughtering beef cattle, has called for “controlled atmosphere stunning,” a process of using gas to make the birds unconscious before they get shackled for slaughter.
Just as pressure from animal welfare advocates, consumers and California voters led poultry farmers to free egg-laying hens from tiny cages, industry is now responding to similar pressure to implement more humane conditions for turkeys and broiler chickens.
Installing new procedures takes time and money. All the buyers and producers that have signed on to the Humane Society campaign have agreed to fully convert to a new system by 2024. Companies should be held to that time frame, and more should be encouraged to take that pledge. If enough consumers demand it, companies will do it. That’s not too much to ask for the sake of the bird you’ll be carving up on Thanksgiving.
What They Are Fed
Turkeys raised in the factory farm model are fed a steady diet of corn-based grain feed laced with antibiotics. Most corn that is not organically grown is genetically modified which means it contains glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp. Do you want to weed killer with your turkey? I don’t think so. As a result of the unhealthy and crowded living conditions, farmers must feed the turkeys a constant supply of antibiotics. Pesticides are also widely used to inhibit the spread of disease. Antibiotics are also known to promote weight gain in farm animals and this connection is being made in humans now as well. In an effort to maximize the more profitable white breast meat, farmers have genetically selected and bred the white broad breasted turkey, which become so top heavy that they can no longer stand or reproduce and as a result, all industrial turkeys are created by artificial insemination. Turkeys are then brought to slaughter, often in a brutal way.
Turkey is the food centerpiece of choice for 85 percent of those who celebrate Thanksgiving, and Americans will spend around $991 million on Thanksgiving turkeys this year.
Though it may seem like a “luxury” there is no getting away from the fact that animals reared with the single goal of providing cheap meat for consumers are reared in ways that would turn most of our stomachs—and that diminishes both our lives and theirs.
It’s definitely nothing to be thankful for.
We can do better, we can shop better and we can eat better.
At any time of year, the big question is whether we can continue to justify the ongoing cruelty of factory farming – so much of which is hidden behind inadequate and confusing labels – and whether we are willing to take a stand at the supermarket checkout.
This holiday season, let’s make our values shine through in our actions. Check out Organic Consumers Association’s Holiday Turkey Buying Guide, or visit Regeneration International’s new map of regenerative farms and click here for regenerative and organic turkey producers, to see how to set yourself—and your turkey bird—free from the chains of industrial farming
Whatever you choose to eat this Thanksgiving, we ask you to consider this information and make a choice that is in integrity. Please choose humanely raised organic or pasture raised turkeys this year! Happy Thanksgiving. Food Integrity Now is thankful for you!
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