14 November 2011

The shame of modern industrial turkey farming

The lifespan of a turkey living in the wild is more than 12 years, whereas the lifespan of a turkey raised on a factory farm is, at most, 16 weeks. Wild turkeys grow to be less than 4 kg, while farmed turkeys grow to a hefty 13 kg. Both wild and captive turkeys have the capacity for fear and pain, but only one of the two experiences these negative emotions on a regular basis.

Factory farmed turkeys are now physically incapable of mating due to their heavy body weight, and as a result, they must be artificially inseminated via tube or syringe.  A report (pdf) released by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in 2010 explains how a turkey's skeleton is "often unable to adequately support such weight, leading to valgusvarus angular (‘‘knock-kneed’’) bone deformities (Smith 1991), degenerative hip joint disease (Duncan et al. 1991), and up to 20% mortality due to lameness in problem flocks. Turkeys with avulsed tendons may only be able to move by creeping on their hocks and may be unable to access food and water (Julian 1984a)." The HSUS report also points out that "the growth of commercial strains may outpace cardiovascular capacity in addition to skeletal integrity (Frank et al. 1990; Mutalib and Hanson 1990). Sudden death associated with acute heart failure and perirenal hemorrhage (bleeding around the kidneys) is a significant cause of mortality for rapidly growing turkey toms, regarded by some in industry as sign of ‘‘good flock health and fast growth rate as in the case of sudden death syndrome (flip-over) in broiler chickens’’ (Mutalib and Hanson 1990)". After breeding, at least 75% of the turkey's suffer from abnormal gait or lameness, and nearly 100% experience some form of hip-joint degeneration.

In the United States, roughly 300 million turkeys are raised and slaughtered every year. To produce, fatten, and butcher so many animals in such a short period of time requires a certain type of brutal efficiency only seen within the confines of massive industrial farms. This mechanization mentality involving non-human animals inevitably spreads to human workers, often leading them to behave like the blood-soaked machinery around them.

According to the BBC, in 2006, two men from Norwich, England, were caught beating turkeys with poles after being "influenced" by the farm's "culture" and "peer pressure". During that same year, Compassion Over Killing (COK) posted undercover footage of a turkey hatchery owned by Goldsboro Milling Company, a corporate affiliate of Butterball. The video showed newly hatched turkeys suffocating in plastic bags, being mangled by machinery, and being dumped into the same disposal system used for discarded eggshells.

In 2008, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released undercover video footage of a turkey farm in West Virginia owned by Aviagen Inc., a major global poultry grower. PETA's investigation documented workers beating turkeys, twisting their necks, and stomping their heads.

In November of 2010, the HSUS made public the findings of an 11-day investigation of Willmar Poultry Company, one of the largest turkey producers in the country. Workers were observed cutting the toes off poults before tossing them down a chute to a bloody conveyor belt, throwing sick poults in grinders, and neglecting ones that had fallen on to the floor. "Our latest investigation exposes a callous disregard for animal welfare in the turkey industry, including practices such as grinding alive sick, injured and even healthy but unwanted turkeys," said Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO. "It's unacceptable for workers to leave injured and nonambulatory animals to suffer on the floor for hours on end, only to then send them to their deaths in a grinder."

This kind of treatment towards any living creature is deplorable, as even non-vegetarians would likely agree. There is no legitimate excuse for the status quo in regard to modern industrial farming methods, and no justification for supporting an industry which profits entirely off totally unnecessary pain, suffering, and death.

"In the end," writes Patrick Battuello of albanyanimalrights.com, "we refer to the proverbial scale. Humans have an interest in pleasurable eating. Turkeys, conversely, have an interest in their pain (amputated beaks and toes, untreated broken bones and torn muscles), deprivation (no sunlight, no freedom to roam, no allowance for family relationships), abuse (handling and transport), and terrifying death. Almost 300 million sentient turkeys live (and die) this way in America each year. And that is the profoundly sad tale of the Thanksgiving turkey."

To sponsor a turkey this Thanksgiving, visit: http://www.adoptaturkey.org/aat/adopt/index.html

Jonathan Reynolds
Jonathan is a freelance writer and blogger residing in upstate New York.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/cyanocorax