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Turkeys (November 2006 Update)

Bizarro cartoon


Americans ate an average of 16.7 pounds of turkey per person last year, up 70% from 1980 and, according to the National Turkey Federation, up from about 8 pounds in 1970.

Turkey production, however, has more than tripled since 1970, with 10% of it now being exported. Of the estimated 266.5 million turkeys who will be raised in 2006, some 45 million were eaten for Thanksgiving. About half of the respondents to a survey by food consultant Technomic said they would prepare or eat turkey for Thanksgiving.



Norbest offers an online tour of turkey production, from the birds used for breeding to the slaughter plant. Here is a picture they use to brag about how great their “free-range” turkeys have it.

According to Minnesota Turkey Facts, “The average turkey producer raises three flocks per year. Each of these flocks is an average size of about 15,000 birds.” By the latest numbers, one county in MN “produced” over 6.5 million birds in just one year.

While female turkeys are still slaughtered at about 12 pounds, the industry has added a pound a year to the market weight of male turkeys, who can now grow to 40 pounds or more in 20 weeks. Rather than rely on added hormones or steroids, genetic selection has been used to make turkeys grow faster and heavier. "There's going to be a physiological limit," cautions Kent Reed, part of a team of scientists mapping the turkey's genetic structure. In addition to joint and skeletal problems, he notes that some birds actually develop a heart that is unable to pump blood to all of their muscle mass. (See also this report: “Welfare Issues with Selective Breeding for Rapid Growth in Broiler Chickens and Turkeys.”)



Farm Sanctuary recently conducted an undercover investigation at a large U.S. turkey breeding facility. There, each worker inseminates an average of 1,200-1,400 hens within two hours. Male birds are kept for a year “in dark crowded pens” and are “milked” once or twice weekly. Females who don’t die beforehand are typically killed prior to their 2nd birthday.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has lodged a complaint with local prosecutors after the organization’s investigators documented workers torturing turkeys at a Butterball slaughter plant in Ozark, Arkansas. Birds were punched and stomped and slammed against walls. According to PETA, “One Butterball employee stomped on a bird's head until her skull exploded, another swung a turkey against a metal handrail so hard that her spine popped out, and another was seen inserting his finger into a turkey's cloaca (vagina). One worker told an investigator: ‘If you jump on their stomachs right, they'll pop ... or their insides will come out of their [rectums],’ and other Butterball workers frequently bragged about kicking and tormenting birds.” The investigator's notes and video footage of the April-July 2006 investigation are online at: PETA is seeking coverage of birds under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. See this for more on what PeTA found at Butterball.

Meat News reports that between June and July of 2006, a Compassion Over Killing (COK) investigator at a hatchery that supplies turkeys to Butterball had "documented shockingly abusive conditions for newly-hatched chicks including: sick, injured, or 'surplus' chicks discarded in the same disposal system as the cracked egg shells, chicks suffocated in plastic bags, chicks being tossed around like inanimate objects throughout the processing system as they are sorted, sexed, de-beaked, de-toed, and in some cases de-snooded and chicks becoming mangled on the machinery and left on the ground to suffer for hours." Butterball said it is taking steps to investigate the allegations. “We rigorously enforce our animal-welfare policies and are committed to addressing any noncompliance issues immediately and appropriately,” stated a spokesperson. Details, photos and video here; more info on the industry here.

Photos of California turkey farm investigations are online here (one below).

Turkey corpses


Alternative Production

The November 21st issue of Business Week says,“Demand for heritage, organic, and free-range turkeys has grown recently due to health-conscious consumers who trust small, family farms,” in an online article that includes a slide show: Various turkey production labels are interpreted by The Washington Post at:

Humane educator Rae Sikora, founder and director of Simply Enough, visited “a local, organic farm with a good reputation for environmental and humane standards.” She reports, “The birds are ‘gently’ pushed into wall mounted funnels head first and upside down. With their heads hanging below an opening at the base of the funnel, the ‘harvester’ slices the major arteries on the bird’s neck. A bucket catches the blood below. In the words of the harvester, ‘I slice with a clean hundred dollar surgical knife. I am careful not to cut the airway. We need them alive, breathing and bleeding to drain all the blood out or it gets too messy in the next step. It is very fast. It only takes two minutes. They are breathing the whole time and their legs are kicking, but it is mostly just nerves.’” Sikora urges everyone who eats meat labeled as “humane,” “organic,” or “free range” to visit the place the meat comes from. “They will realize these labels give people permission to turn their backs on the violent reality of eating living beings,” she asserts.


Vegetarian Options

“[T]his year let the turkey (and your mom) thank you by choosing a less laborious, convenient and healthier vegetarian Thanksgiving meal,” urges Dr. Manny Alvarez, managing editor of health news at and chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Science at New Jersey’s Hackensack University Medical Center. He directs readers to the Whole Foods site, which features a chart of ingredient substitutions, including ones for eggs, milk and gelatin:

Tofurky roast

Turtle Island Foods is celebrating the sale of its millionth Tofurky since the soy turkey debuted in 1995. (Business Week’s Rebecca Reisner invited friends over to test the appeal of her first one: VegieWorld also sells vegetarian meat products, including nuggets and drumsticks.

Sales of meat and dairy analogs in the U.S. grew 63.5% between 2000 and 2005, with consumers expected to buy $1.38 billion of them in 2006. Sales of frozen and refrigerated meat substitutes alone increased 36% in the 12-month period that ended in January 2006. Additionally, vegetarian menu items increased in popularity by 33% among restaurant customers in 2005: Market research firm NPD Group attributes the increase to non-vegetarians who choose to eat vegetarian foods more often. Business Week looks at some of these other products and tells of the smaller companies that produce them being bought up by food conglomerates. A slide show is included:

Compiled by Farmed Animal Watch.


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