On Thanksgiving, millions of Americans will gather around dead turkeys to give thanks for the blessings in their lives. Turkeys, of course, have nothing to be thankful for.
Before they're slaughtered, these smart, social birds, who enjoy having their feathers stroked and gobbling along to music, spend five to six months packed together so tightly in dark sheds that flapping a wing or stretching a leg is nearly impossible.
To keep the frustrated, cramped birds from pecking and clawing at one another, factory workers cut off parts of the birds' toes and a portion of their upper beaks. These procedures are known to cause chronic and acute pain. The males' snoods, the fleshy appendage under their chin, are also chopped off--without any pain relievers.
Miserable and suffering, the birds must stand mired in their own waste, breathing strong ammonia fumes which burn their eyes and lungs. Some birds develop congestive heart disease, enlarged livers and other illnesses. Millions of turkeys succumb to "starve-out," a stress-induced condition that causes young birds to stop eating.
To keep more birds alive under the dismal, disease-ridden conditions--and to stimulate their growth--farmers dose them with antibiotics. Because the birds are drugged and bred to grow so large in such a short period of time, their bones can't support their weight, and many suffer from broken legs. Some birds attempt to drag themselves by their wings to reach food and water.
Turkeys are vulnerable to all kinds of gratuitous cruelty. Last fall, a PETA investigator went undercover at Aviagen Turkeys in West Virginia and caught workers stomping on turkeys, punching them, beating them with pipes and boards and twisting the birds' necks repeatedly. One worker even bragged about shoving a broomstick down a turkey's throat because the bird had pecked at him. When the investigator told a supervisor about the cruelty he witnessed, the supervisor responded, "Every once in awhile, everybody gets agitated and has to kill a bird." Following the investigation, a grand jury indicted three workers on animal abuse charges, several of which were felony offenses.
The hideous abuse witnessed at Aviagen Turkeys--the self-proclaimed "world's leading poultry breeding company"--is typical in factory farms and slaughterhouses. Workers at a Butterball slaughterhouse in Ozark, Arkansas, for example, were documented punching and stomping on turkeys, and slamming them against walls, and the manager of a turkey factory farm in Minnesota was seen wringing turkeys' necks and bludgeoning turkeys to death.
But even when turkeys raised for food aren't gratuitously abused, they still suffer greatly.
In slaughterhouses, the terrified birds are hung upside-down and their heads are dragged through an electrified "stunning tank," which immobilizes the birds but does not kill them. Many turkeys dodge the tank and are still conscious when their throats are cut. If the knife or the back-up killer expected to be on duty fails to cut the birds' throats properly, the animals are scalded to death in the tanks of boiling water used for feather removal.
Anyone who eats turkey contributes to this horrific cruelty, often in the name of celebration. Of the nearly 270 million turkeys killed for food every year in the U.S., more than 72 million are slaughtered to be eaten for holiday meals.