A turkey at the centre of the Christmas dinner table is tradition. We’ve all grown up with it. It can be hard to imagine the yearly meal without it. However, I recently stumbled across some information that has me looking at this festive ritual differently. Did you know that over 99% of turkeys on the market possess genes that have been modified to create breasts so big, they have a hard time standing up? As well, around 98% of birds raised for meat in North America come from factory farms.
What is Factory Farming?
Definition: A system of rearing livestock using intensive methods, by which poultry, pigs, or cattle are confined indoors under strictly controlled conditions.
“Within factory farms, besides the animals themselves, there is no hint of anything you might call “natural” — not a patch of earth or a window to let in moonlight. Farmers today spend more time removing dead animals than caring for living ones. Turkeys die of heart attacks. This harsh form of death is considered a standard cost of doing business,” – Author Jonathan Safran Foer of Eating Animals
“Factory farms dominate U.S.* food production, employing abusive practices that maximize agribusiness profits at the expense of the environment, our communities, animal welfare, and even our health,” – farmsanctuary.org *Canadian farming is nearly identical – over 95% of animals raised for food in Canada come from factory farms. source
“While most people know the vague outlines of the cruelty of factory farms — the cages are small, the slaughter is violent — certain widely practiced techniques have eluded the public consciousness. I had never heard about food and light deprivation. After learning about it, I didn’t want to eat a conventional egg ever again,” – Author Jonathan Safran Foer of Eating Animals
10 Reasons To Consider Skipping The Factory Farmed Turkey This Christmas (+ Alternative Meal Ideas)
1. Over 98% of Turkeys Raised for Food in North America Come From Factory Farms
This means they’ve spent their entire lives in large, crowded windowless sheds with thousands of other birds. “Turkeys may be confined so tightly that each bird has only between 2.5 to 4 square feet of space each. This space only gets tighter as the turkeys grow larger. The dusty, ammonia-filled air inside these facilities is a consequence of poor ventilation and overcrowding. This highly contaminated air is associated with a host of health issues, including respiratory damage and irritated, swollen eyes. source | Read more about turkey factory farming here.
What the industry figured out — and this was the real revolution — is that you don’t need healthy animals to make a profit. Sick animals are more profitable. The animals have paid the price for our desire to have everything available at all times for very little money. We never needed biosecurity before. – Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
2. Turkeys Are Commonly Declawed and Debeaked Without Painkillers
It’s common for turkeys to be declawed and debeaked without painkillers because their living conditions are so crowded, they become stressed and more inclined to attack one another. Their beaks contain more nerve endings than our finger tips and debeaking could be compared to having your lips cut off. Debeaking deprives the birds of one of their most important sources of sensory input. 1) source 2) source
3. The Free-range Label Doesn’t Mean Much At All
Labels can be misleading. Free-range often doesn’t mean farm animals are given adequate space to roam. In North America, the term “free-range” is not properly defined. “The term means merely some vague level of outdoor access. Important questions such as how much outdoor access, what kind of outdoor access, and for how long, are not answered,” – Project Animal Farm by Sonia Faruqi.
Most free-range farms are bullshit,” Brick [a Canadian turkey farmer] told me, “Most free-range farmers give their chickens and turkeys just a small patch of dirt. It’s so small that the buggers don’t even bother to use it! Ya won’t see a single bugger outside! It’s all a scam. – Project Animal Farm by Sonia Faruqi.
The law states that chickens must be “allowed access to the outside,” yet there are zero specifications as to how big this outdoor area must be. There might be one door that goes to a 4’x4′ yard for 100 chickens or more that are all eating hormone-fueled, pesticide-drenched food. source
“Free-range” facilities are generally no more than large sheds in which tens of thousands of turkeys are crammed together on filthy, disease-ridden floors, living in their own waste. The conditions are often so poor that many turkeys die simply from the stress of living in such an environment.” source
4. Organic Does Not Signify Humane Treatment
Organic foods in general are almost certainly safer and often have a smaller ecological footprint and better health value. They are not, though, necessarily more humane. For chickens raised for meat and for turkeys, “organic” doesn’t necessarily mean anything in terms of welfare issues. You an call your turkey organic and torture it daily. – Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
5. Turkeys Are Bred To Grow So Fast, Their Hearts and Vascular Systems Can’t Keep Up
Today’s turkeys are bred for an unnaturally large breast. This is because the breast is the most profitable part of the body — the part in highest demand by consumers. The large size of modern turkeys also means that they are no longer able to mate naturally, as the tom is too heavy to mount the female. Consequently, they are artificially inseminated. Project Animal Farm by Sonia Faruqi
Breeders breed turkeys to grow so fast that their heart and vascular can’t keep up. The body weight of turkeys increases three hundred times between birth and slaughter. In their last few weeks, they put on two hundred grams of weight every day. Their genetics are crazy. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.
Everyone’s saying buy fresh, buy local. It’s a sham. It’s all the same kind of bird, and the suffering is in their genes. In nature, sometimes human babies are born with deformities. But you don’t aim to reproduce that generation after generation. But that’s what they did with turkeys. Eating Animals
In the factory farm system, turkeys breasts are so heavy, they have a hard time walking. “In nature, the turkey’s athletic prowess is impressive. Wild turkeys can fly at speeds of up to 55 miles per hour and run at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour. – source
In 1970, the average live turkey raised for meat weighed 17 pounds. Today, he or she weighs 28 pounds. According to one industry publication, modern turkeys grow so quickly that if a 7-pound human baby grew at the same rate, the infant would weigh 1,500 pounds at just 18 weeks of age. – source
6. Turkeys Lead Unnaturally Short Lives
The natural lifespan of the turkey is up to ten years, but on factory farms they are sent to the slaughterhouse at just 5 months old. source
7. Turkeys Are Often Abused and Mistreated
There are countless examples of turkey abuse documented in undercover videos and testimonials. Read about Mercy For Animals’ undercover investigation here. Also, 10-15% of turkeys die during transport to the slaughterhouse.
8. Factory Farmed Turkeys Are Not Healthy Animals
Because a single worker may be responsible for the care of as many as 30,000 birds, these and other illnesses and injuries can easily go unnoticed. source
What the industry figured out — and this was the real revolution — is that you don’t need healthy animals to make a profit. Sick animals are more profitable. – Eating Animals
9. Is There Such Thing as Humane Slaughter?
Scroll down to number ten here on this page. What do you think?
10. Why Eat Turkey (or Ham) When There Are So Many Other Great Options?
Vegducken is the awesome, ridiculously delicious vegetarian version of Turducken (in which a chicken is stuffed into a deboned duck and stuffed into a deboned turkey). Imagine how much better you’ll feel the morning after indulging in this meal!!!
Where to Buy Happier Turkeys in Vancouver
I don’t eat or encourage the consumption of turkey. But if you or your family feel you must, I’d rather you purchase from a small farm whose birds are treated better than those at factory farms. Here are a few Vancouver area farms to consider sourcing from.
- Urban Digs Farm (they are sold out — sorry I’m late with this post)
- Pasture to Plate (haven’t been to these last three farms, but Urban Digs recommends)
- Sleeping Mountain
- K&M Farms
Turkey photo credit: peta.org