Does the production and consumption of Thanksgiving turkey involve animal abuse? Let us first define what animal abuse is. Animal abuse is “any act that contributes to the pain, suffering or unnatural death of animals or that otherwise threatens or harms their welfare. Animal abuse may be physical, sexual, psychological or emotional. It may involve active maltreatment or passive neglect or omission. It may be direct or indirect, intentional or unintentional.” (Class lecture) In this essay we will examine why one considers the production and consumption of Thanksgiving turkey to be animal abuse and in what way these types of abuse occur, from being born and raised in factory farms to being slaughtered in slaughtered factories.
According to some research done by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) factory farms raise more than 228 million turkeys every year in the U.S and out of those million, around 87 million turkeys are slaughtered and eaten during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. The living conditions in which the turkeys are born in have been said to be inhumane. Thousands of those turkeys spend months on end packed into dark sheds with no more than 3.5 square feet per bird. This causes both physical and emotional harm to them because they do not have sufficient amount of room to run around and causes them stress as well as health issues since they are literally trapped in one spot. Since they are crowded together some turkeys will begin to peck each other to death and so to prevent these behaviors, factory farm workers will cut off portions of the turkeys toes and upper beak. For male turkeys, they would also cut off the snood. One would assume that with these kinds of procedures they would use some types of pain killers but fact of the matter is that they do not use anything of that sort during these procedures.
There have been reports of farmers using some form of drug and antibiotics that would genetically manipulate the birds’ genome so that the bird would weigh 35 pounds in less than 5 months. For the birds to weigh that much in less than five months and for them to manipulate their genome in a way that makes their internal organs not have enough space and be squeezed in the only space that is left within the cavity, this is animal abuse because one is imposing their powers over another species that may or may not be equal power to theirs. This type of action taken from the farmer towards the birds is also considered to be animal abuse according to the definition as stated above because it threatens and harms their welfare. Turkeys put under this kind of manipulation, are no longer able to walk because their weight is too much to bare. They are also unable to fly anymore and can no longer participate in normal reproductive behavior. Instead the farmers use artificial insemination to help populate their farms and raise them for food. This is another type of abuse because like stated before, they are using their power over another species and they suffer because of it. This kind of suffer turns to stress and eventually causes the birds to stop eating which then results to their early deaths. The pain that they suffer both physically and emotionally that causes this kind of stress-induced condition is abuse. Peter Singer in his book Animal Liberation: The Definitive Classic of the Animal Movement states “But pain is pain, and the importance of preventing unnecessary pain and suffering does not diminish because the being that suffers is not a member of our species” (pgs. 4193-4194) and this quote help emphasize that like how he states pain in pain and it does not discriminate between species.
After being in the factory farms, the turkeys are sent to the slaughterhouse. As defined in Theriocide: Naming Animal Killing by Piers Beirne “Slaughterhouses originated in the desire to render animals’ flesh fit for human consumption.” That is to say that their objective is nothing more than slaughtering “animals” and making profit from selling to consumers. According to PETA’s website, in slaughterhouses “turkeys are hung upside down by their weak and crippled legs before their heads are dragged through an electrified ‘stunning tank,’ which immobilizes then but does not kill them.” The key words in that quote is does not kill them which is a form of abuse because they are suffering but can not show when they get their throats slashed. Some turkeys dodge the stunning tank as show in a video presented in class and then are conscious when they get their throats slashed. Even more horrifying is when their throats aren’t properly slashed and are dragged into scalding hot water so that their feathers can come off easily and while in the process are still conscious and alive. Being in a philosophy course called Death & Dying, we have discussed what it means when one is conscious and unconscious. Being unconscious doesn’t necessarily mean one does not feel anything such as pain.
In some cases, there have been people going undercover like another video shown in class that uncover horrible situations such as purposely slamming birds against anything that can cause harm, participated in physically and sexually harming the turkeys. Some turkeys who were not fit to consume, were thrown into piles of dead turkeys and other turkeys who were dying. To witness something so horrendous as well as see that people who are participating in these actions not think it to be animal abuse has rendered me speechless. Peter Singer states “We have to speak up on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves.” (pg. 257) Organizations such as PETA and other organizations of animal rights for example are doing just that.
That is not to say that individuals themselves are not doing anything to stop this cruelty. Some do not condone the actions taken from farmers and slaughterhouses but still buy the product in the market stores. I was a part of those people who did not condone the actions but would still buy their produce which made them profit. For other reasons not involved in animal abuse, I no longer buy turkey for Thanksgiving nor even celebrate it. Peter Singer said “Until we boycott meat, and all other products of animal factories, we are, each one of us, contributing to the continued existence, prosperity, and growth of factory farming and all the other cruel practices used in rearing animals for food.” (pg. 3179) It is true that in order for these actions to stop, one must first boycott meat and all other product of animal factories but I do not see that happening anytime soon.