Squash, cranberry sauce, gravy - but please hold the turkey. The creature you are about to carve carries a crateload of bad karma. Why eat a bird that's so badly tortured?
From mythic symbol to alien species
• The wild turkey encountered by North American colonists could fly up to 80 kilometres an hour and was celebrated for its inquisitiveness and friendliness toward people and its ability to outwit hunters.
•Today's factory-farmed turkeys are genetically bred to grow so fast (tom turkeys can weigh up to 35 kilograms) that their bones and leg muscles can't support their upper bodies, making them susceptible to organ failure and bone fractures.
• In fact, thousands of the 21 million turkeys produced in Canada each year are crippled by the time they reach the slaughterhouse.
A recipe for misery
•Turkeys today often live in barns packed so tightly - about 2 square feet per bird - that many die from disease, suffocation and heart attacks. There is no regulated definition of "free range" when it comes to turkeys in Canada.
• Because of their close quarters, turkeys have to be de-beaked and declawed (with a heated blade or laser beam, without anaesthesia) to keep them from pecking and scratching each other to death. De-beaking can make eating so painful that many turkeys die of starvation.
• The barns are usually only cleaned between flocks, so turkeys are forced to stand in their own feces much of the time, making them susceptible to foot ulcerations (aka litter burn) that in extreme cases lead to lameness.
• Indeed, many farmed turkeys don't make it past the first few weeks before succumbing to "starve-out," a stress-related condition that causes them to stop eating.
• Farmed turkeys are grown so unnaturally large - white meat is where the money is, don't you know - that they can't even perform normal reproductive behaviours, making all turkeys raised for food the product of artificial insemination. Breeding hens can be artificially inseminated up to 30 times in their first laying year.
•Mature hens may be starved, a practice accepted in Canada known as "force-moulting," so they can be artificially inseminated more often in their second laying year.
•Turkeys can live up to 10 years in the wild but are typically slaughtered as young as 12 weeks.
•At the slaughterhouse, birds are shackled upside down and supposed to be rendered unconscious by immersion in an "electrified water stun bath." But it's estimated that a quarter of all turkeys are not "stunned" properly and, as a result, are fully conscious when their throats are slit.
• To make matters worse, turkeys that are able to dodge the mechanical cutter used to slit their throats are boiled alive and conscious in the scalding tanks used for feather removal. Animal activists have been pushing for the use of inert gas during transport to the slaughterhouse.
Insult to injury
•Codes of practice for the care and handling of farm animals drawn up by the industry, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to ensure humane treatment are only voluntary.
Mmm, mmm, bad
•Producers say turkey is a good source of protein, but animal rights activists point out that turkey contains no fibre or carbohydrates and has more fat and cholesterol than many cuts of beef.
The turkey alternatives
•Go veg. Tofurkey and Unturkey aren't that appetizing and, unfortunately, are loaded with sodium and wheat gluten, which may pose a problem for those with allergies.
What turkey producers say
"I would take issue with what animal rights activists are saying. I think they are absolutely incorrect. We care about our animals and our livelihood. We're constantly striving to improve anywhere that we can. We have a code of practice that ensures we treat our animals in a very humane way based on sound science. Turkey is healthy, safe, nutritious and great on the barbecue."
Ingrid DeVisser, Ontario turkey farmer on behalf of the Canadian Turkey Marketing Agency
Sources: Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals; Canadian Agri-Food Research Council; www.shameway.com; United Poultry Concerns; Turkeys Want To Be Friends, Not Food, by Karen Davis