New Internationalist

Go cold turkey this Christmas: cut out the meat!

Christmas should be all about kindness and giving. It should not be about sleep deprivation, mutilation, broken legs, stress or cramped, unhygienic conditions, which is what the vast majority of Christmas turkeys have to go through. Such is the stress caused by the modern living conditions of domesticated turkeys that many of them succumb to what is called a ‘starve out’ where they refuse to eat and consequently starve to death. These ones probably suffer the least.

Turkeys are far more intelligent than they are given credit for, and deserve better treatment.  Research has shown that turkeys in the wild have a vocabulary of 30 different vocalizations for communicating with each other. These include distinct vocalizations for different species of snake, calling the flock to assemble, or warning that a young chick has been lost.

The idea that birds are worthless objects that we can treat as we please needs challenging. New Caledonian crows have been documented making and using tools such as levers and hooks, each one custom-made for the particular task ahead. Indeed, some scientists believe these crows make more complex tools than chimpanzees. Meanwhile, some parrots are able to solve mathematical problems, and cormorants have demonstrated that they can count up to eight. These examples are a tiny fraction of the evidence for bird intelligence.

As well as intelligence, birds also possess empathy, and can care for other beings outside their species: one of the better known examples being the adoption by a white pigeon of an orphaned macaque monkey. The pigeon nurtured the distressed monkey, taking on the role of mother and helping the baby develop. If a ‘simple’ pigeon can show this much empathy for a being from another species, shouldn’t we be able to do the same? Is electrocution, scalding, mutilation, drugging and slaughter really all these creatures deserve?

The living conditions of the majority of Christmas turkeys are so cramped that in order to stop them attacking each other in the crush, they have their beaks, toes and snoods cut off with pliers. No anaesthetics are used.

Modern turkeys are over-bred and drugged so that they grow as fast as possible, and this often leads to organ failure, leg disorders and heart attacks. The turkeys that don’t grow fast enough are killed after a few weeks, having never seen sunlight: this ensures maximum profitability.

The turkeys that survive this process are shipped off to be slaughtered, sometimes up to 2,000 of them in one truck, literally thrown in like baggage at an airport. Of course, this often results in broken legs, but when an industry is based around treating sentient beings as objects, this kind of abuse is bound to happen. The conditions on the trucks mean that every year millions of turkeys die of heat exhaustion or exposure to the cold or accidents during transport.

Once at the industrial slaughterhouse, the birds are hung by their legs (even if their legs are broken), and have their heads electrocuted to stun them. Some of the birds manage to dodge the electric field, which means they are still conscious when their necks are cut with mechanical saws, or when they are blasted with scalding hot water to remove their feathers.

It has been scientifically established for a long time that there is absolutely no need to eat meat. It is an entirely unnecessary lifestyle choice. Is all this death and suffering really necessary just for the difference in flavour between turkey and a nut roast? Do the right thing this Christmas, and have another slice of pudding instead.

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  1. #1 Jacqui 22 Dec 12

    Completely agree with every point here - eating meat is total madness in this day and age. Farming is brutal and well hidden from the public eye. Wake up world! Must people would instantly stop eating animal products if they knew the truth. Please consider the animals that needlessly suffer to feed human greed. Plant based diets are better for us, the planet and the animals. Thank you for a great article - I hope it helps people realise how easy it is to stop this barbaric cruelty by switching to a healthier and more compassionate lifestyle.

  2. #2 Alice 23 Dec 12

    I am not currently vegetarian, and never have been. In that context, I find it odd that at Christmas time many of us will spend a large sum of money buying gifts for colleagues/in-laws/distant relations we never see, but will not spend a little extra on a free range turkey, that's 'ethically' sourced. We buy the gifts as a result of social pressures, so it seems that the answer is to work to increase social pressure on our meat and other food choices. There's a lot of work to be done, thanks for raising awareness. It's very disturbing that this goes on, and even more so that there are so few (relatively) who challenge it of their own accord. Great article.

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About the author

Chris Grezo a New Internationalist contributor

Chris Grezo is an opinionated screenplay writer and columnist who believes progressive politics and global justice are inherently linked. He believes there are ethical reasons to adopt a vegan or vegetarian diet, along with environmental and economic reasons. In his spare time Chris is active in the animal rights movement, and supports Iranian exiles in their fight for a democratic and liberal Iran.

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