Japan takes baby steps toward a proper debate about animal rights

Photo  Jim Robertson

Photo Jim Robertson

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/02/22/national/japan-takes-baby-steps-toward-a-proper-debate-about-animal-rights/#.Uwo9mrCYZy1

by Philip Brasor Feb 22, 2014

On Jan. 10, convenience store chain Family Mart started selling a new bentō (boxed lunch) with a heavy-duty name to complement its hefty ¥600 price: Famima Premium Koroge Wagyu-iri Hamburger Bento, which “contains” high-quality Japanese ground beef. For an added touch of extravagance, it also came with a side of foie gras.

A month later, the company withdrew the product after receiving complaints about the foie gras, which is made from the fatty livers of geese. Animal welfare groups claim the manufacture of foie gras amounts to animal cruelty since the birds are force-fed. A Family Mart PR person told Tokyo Shimbun that the company only received 22 complaints, but that it was enough to persuade it to pull the item. The reporter hinted that the company may have actually withdrawn it due to bad sales, but in any case, it’s significant that complaints related to animal rights would be taken seriously by a Japanese business and picked up by the media. It’s not a topic that’s usually covered unless non-Japanese are involved.

Like Caroline Kennedy. The new U.S. ambassador to Japan recently attracted media scrutiny for a tweet expressing her and the U.S. government’s objection to the dolphin “drive hunt” taking place in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture. Ever since “The Cove” won the Oscar for best documentary of 2009, the world has come down on the whaling town for its yearly cull, which involves scaring dolphins into a cove, separating some for sale to aquariums and marine shows, and killing others for food. Taiji says the condemnation is unfair, since this is how the town makes its living. People who object are hypocrites because humans raise cows and pigs for slaughter. What’s the difference?

Protests are viewed by the Japanese press as a form of cultural bias: Those who complain think dolphins are special, more intelligent than other animals and thus should not be killed for food. But recent editorials in the Tokyo and Asahi Shimbuns, prompted by the Kennedy tweet, downplay the cultural-chasm theory. Asahi says it is more about “how we want to live as human beings.” Why are dolphins special? The feeling is that there is “less distance” between our two species because dolphins are biologically equipped to “communicate,” thus giving them the means to display “intelligence.” And the more an animal “fulfills the condition of being human,” the greater its right to be treated the same way, meaning they should have similar rights as people do in a given society.

However, the logical pillars of this argument as erected by the Asahi were designed to be knocked down. The paper interviewed Koichi Tagami, a lecturer on ethics at Rissho University, who says human rights stem from self-consciousness, which implies “independent reasoning.” If other animals manifest self-consciousness in some way, they deserve to have their rights protected, including the right not to have pain inflicted on them. So if we grant those rights to dolphins, Tagami argues, then all animals that feel pain should have that right, including cows and pigs. Even robots, he reasons, have the right to object to being “controlled” by humans.

The editorial quotes other scholars who point out differing attitudes toward animals in other countries, and how certain animals are protected while others aren’t depending on the culture. The point seems to be that it is impossible to formulate legal guidelines that cover all aspects of animal welfare when there is no global consensus on what is basically a philosophical issue.

But the Asahi’s academic approach conveniently avoids touching on the most important aim of the animal welfare movement, which is to prevent suffering. Tagami’s theory about freedom from pain is merely a talking point. Though the average person may find advocacy of animal rights too intense at times, the worldwide trend is toward less suffering. Slaughterhouses in Europe must anesthetize livestock before they are killed. Most in the U.S. slaughter animals only after they are stunned. Last week, Denmark outlawed meat-processing techniques used for halal and kosher food, which dictate that animals be conscious when they are slaughtered. The move was met with condemnation from Muslim and Jewish groups. Even nonreligious people wondered about the law after a Danish zoo killed a perfectly healthy giraffe and fed it to lions because the giraffe could not be bred. Its genetic material was already over-represented in the captive environment.

Tokyo Shimbun’s editorial enters this realm by tying animal welfare to commerce. What’s cruel is the mass-production methods of most meat-processing businesses, which are designed to be cheaper and more efficient. Filmmaker Aya Hanabusa made a movie about a Japanese butcher that showed how he raised his livestock from birth and personally killed the animals before processing their meat for sale. She told Tokyo Shimbun that before you can call dolphin culls cruel, you have to apply the same ethical criteria to animals raised “as industrial products.”

In this regard, Taiji fishermen say they have adopted “slaughterhouse methods” to make sure the dolphins they kill “die instantly,” an assertion that anyone who has seen “The Cove” may have a problem with. In any event, they invited Kennedy to witness the cull and see for herself, since what galled them was her suggestion that it is “inhumane.”

Semantics mean something here, and both sides stretch points to their advantage. Taiji claims outsiders are interfering with their “traditional way of life,” but the town didn’t start the drive hunt until 1969, when it needed live animals for its recently opened whaling museum. The anti-cull activists, on the other hand, insist that dolphin meat is dangerous due to high levels of mercury, a contention that is incidental to the cruelty argument. In a world where meat-eating is common, it’s unlikely either side is going to budge unless the Japanese media joins the discussion in a meaningful way.

Call OFF the “Wild”man

Drugs, Death, Neglect: Behind the Scenes at Animal Planet

Mother Jones’ exclusive investigation reveals how animals suffer on the network’s top reality show.

By the time three orphaned raccoons arrived for emergency care at the Kentucky Wildlife Center in April 2012, “they were emaciated,” says Karen Bailey, who runs the nonprofit rehab clinic set in the sunny thoroughbred country just outside of Georgetown, in central Kentucky. “They were almost dead.”

Read more: http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/01/animal-abuse-drugs-call-of-the-wildman-animal-planet

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Tea Party Bill Would Eviscerate Endangered Species Act

http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2013/endangered-species-act-11-22-2013.html

For Immediate Release, November 22, 2013

Contact: Brett  Hartl, (202) 817-8121

Tea Party Bill Would Eviscerate  Endangered Species Act

As America  Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Landmark Law, Right-wing Senators  Seek to Tear It Apart

              WASHINGTON— Tea Party senators introduced a  bill this week that would effectively end the protection of most endangered  species in the United States and gut some of the most important provisions of  the Endangered Species Act. Senate Bill 1731, introduced by Tea Party Sens.  Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Dean Heller, would end protections for most of the  species that are currently protected by the Act and make it virtually  impossible to protect new species under the law. It would also eliminate protection  for habitat that’s critical to the survival of rare and struggling animals and  plants around the country.

“Here we are celebrating the 40th  anniversary of the Endangered Species Act this year, and the Tea Party wants to  tear it limb from limb,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director  at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s really a sad testament to how out  of touch the Tea Party has become with the American people, and how beholden  they are to industry special interests that are more interested in profits than  saving wildlife, wild places and a livable future for the next generation.”

In its 40-year history, the Endangered  Species Act has been more than 99 percent successful at preventing extinction  for wildlife under its protection and has put hundreds of plants and animals on  the path to recovery, including bald eagles, grizzly bears, whales and sea  turtles.

Despite this successful track record, the bill’s  most extreme provision would require that every five years all protected species be removed from the list of threatened and  endangered species, eliminating all legal protections. No matter how close to extinction they might be, every  listed species would then have to wait until Congress passed a joint resolution  renewing their protections under the Act for another five years. Five years  later, this process would start over again, eliminating all protections until  Congress passed another joint resolution.

“The strength of the Endangered Species Act  — in fact all of our nation’s environmental laws — comes from the requirement  that science, not politics, guide the protection of our wildlife, air and  water,” said Hartl. “This bill would allow extreme ideologues in Congress to  veto environmental protections for any protected species they wanted, just so  they could appease their special-interest benefactors.”

The bill would eliminate all protections for  the critical habitat of endangered species and allow state governments to  effectively veto any conservation measures designed to protect an imperiled  species within their respective state. Meanwhile federal wildlife agencies  would need to complete onerous accounting reports to estimate the costs of  protecting endangered species rather than completing tangible, on-the-ground  conservation activities to protect species and the places they live.

“This bill would devastate species  protections and open the door to log, mine and pave some of the last places on  Earth where these animals survive,” Hartl said. “It’s a boon for profiteers  like the Koch Brothers but will rob every American who values wildlife and wild  places.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a  national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000  members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species  and wild places.

Celebrate the Right to Be Quiet Instead

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2013. All Rights Reserved

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2013. All Rights Reserved

On the way home from the ocean, just before sundown yesterday evening, I passed a field where a local elk herd can often be seen peacefully grazing or lounging at the edge of the forest. This time the elk were running away from some unseen threat. Being as it was July 3rd and considering the number of fireworks stands around, there was no sense second-guessing what was frightening them—fireworks!

Despite the increasing fire danger this time of year and regardless of who or what they might annoy, celebratory Americans can’t seem to resist launching their little rockets and lighting off their pocket-sized explosives. Those without their own box of bombs compensate by shooting their semi-automatics ‘till the cows flee home.

What a thrill—but not for everyone. While people play their war games, the wildlife head for the hills. To them, the sound of fireworks and gunfire are synonymous: they both spell human-up-to-no-good. As the raucous revelers express their right to be obnoxious assholes, the non-human animals—much more in tune with the senses—have to live in terror. Don’t believe it? Just look at your family pet.

And all so we can relive a war over and over. But the one good thing about war: while humans are busy fighting with each other each other, they don’t have as much time to torment the wildlife. Also, from the scavengers’ perspective, there’s sometimes a lot of fresh carrion left on the battlefield.

God damn the Preacher Man

Yesterday I attended my aunt’s funeral to pay my respects to an exceptionally caring woman who extended her compassion to the animal kingdom. Much was shared about her rare and genuine goodness, but at the end of the ceremony the preacher had to go and spoil it for me. He proclaimed that her selfless acts were just God working through her (like she was just a puppet or some kind of brain-dead zombie who never had an original thought of her own). He said the the “fact” that she was created in God’s image meant she was a reflection of Him. (So, God is a hunched-over, little old lady?)

I left there thinking: What about those who are intentionally cruel to animals or other people—are they also a reflection of God? If so, why is He so two-faced, when He’s supposed to be all about love and kindness? Did He bring selfishness and cruelty into this world just to fuck with us, or is He, Himself, in fact not infallible?

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On a related note (sorta), the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics put out this:

Photo and idea for title thanks to Steppenwolf

Photo and idea for title thanks to Steppenwolf

  1 July 2013

IS RELIGION GOOD FOR YOUR CAT AND DOG?

A new research project at Oxford will examine whether animals benefit or suffer thanks to religion.

Inspired by Baptist Preacher Charles Surgeon’s claim that a person cannot be a true Christian if his dog or cat is not the better off for it, the Centre will explore whether religious traditions are animal-friendly.  The questions to be addressed include whether religious people and religious institutions benefit animals? Are they more or less likely to be respectful to animals – either those kept as companions or those used for other human purposes?

The project is being organised by the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. It will be multidisciplinary, multifaith, and draw in not only theologians and religious thinkers, but also other academics including social scientists, psychologists, historians, and criminologists.  “We want to know whether religion makes any difference for animals”, says Oxford theologian, Professor Andrew Linzey, who is Director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.  “We often hear of how religion is detrimental to human rights, but is it also detrimental to animal protection?”

The first stage of the project will culminate in a Summer School on Religion and Animal Protection at St Stephen’s House, Oxford, from 21-23rd July 2014. St Stephen’s is an Anglican Theological College and a Hall of the University of Oxford.

Academics interested in contributing to the project should contact the Centre’s Deputy Director, Clair Linzey, in the first instance depdirector@oxfordanimalethics.com or (+44) (0)1865 201565.

Hunting is Legal Animal Cruelty

When is an act of cruelty to animals not considered a crime?

When it’s committed in the name of sport.

“Injuring or killing any animal, outside of its permitted hunting season, is a crime.”

That quote was from Putnam County SPCA Chief Ken Ross, in response to the shooting of a Canada goose by a man annoyed that geese leave their droppings in an area where human children might play. The entire quote read: “In New York State, all animals are protected under cruelty statutes. Injuring or killing any animal, outside of its permitted hunting season, is a crime” (my emphasis added).

Clearly, even in a state as progressive as New York, “sportsmen” like hunters, fishers and trappers are given a free pass to get away with the crime of animal cruelty. At the risk of undermining the few laws currently in existence protecting non-humans, it’s time to recognize the tradition of hunting as nothing more than legalized cruelty to animals.

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2013. All Rights Reserved

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2013. All Rights Reserved

MFWP Sued Over Lynx Trapping

Today the Missoulian reported that:

- Three conservation groups filed a federal court lawsuit Thursday against Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioners and Director Jeff Hagener for allowing trapping and snaring in Canada lynx habitat.

The Friends of the Wild Swan, the WildEarth Guardians and the Alliance for the Wild Rockies say FWP reported at least nine incidents since 2000 of lynx being caught in traps set for other species; and say four of those animals died. They alleged that this violates the federal Endangered Species Act, which lists lynx as a threatened species and warranted for protection, and want the trapping prohibited in lynx habitat.

“In one instance, a young female lynx was found in a pool of her own blood, with extensive muscle damage, and an empty stomach — all from lingering far too long in a cruel, steel-jawed trap,” Wendy Keefover, carnivore protection program director for WildEarth Guardians, said in a news release. “Montana allowed this unnecessary death, which impedes lynx recovery, especially when it involves potential breeding animals.”

The lawsuit outlines some of the cases in which lynx were caught and died, including one that starved to death. 

Yes, you read that right, a lynx STARVED TO DEATH in a trap! Obviously there’s no 24 hour trap check required for species like bobcat or whoever trappers are “legally” targeting. How many more precious animals have to bleed to death, lose limbs or starve in traps before the world wakes up and trapping ends for good?

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“Game” Laws Are the Ultimate In Moral Schizophrenia

People like to think we live in a civilized society; after all, we no longer condone slavery, human sacrifice, cannibalism, lethal gladiator games or a host of other outdated cruelties. But in reality, we’re living in a time when the accepted treatment of non-human animals has never been more morally schizophrenic.

Take, for example, the following excerpt from a UK Mirror article about a criminal case of animal abuse that could easily be confused with a perfectly “legal” bird hunt…

Locked up: Yob shot dead 18 ducks and posted pictures of rampage on Facebook
The cruel 18-year-old went on the rampage up a canal bank and when caught told police he only killed the birds ‘for a bit of fun’
12 Jan 2013
A lout who shot dead 18 ducks and posted pictures of their corpses on Facebook was locked up for eight weeks yesterday.
Cruel 18-year-old Michael Prince went on the rampage up a canal bank and when caught told police he only killed the birds ‘for a bit of fun.’
The sick gunman caused armed police to be deployed to the scene to reel him in and his friend who was also armed with a gun at the waterside.
Animal welfare bosses described Prince’s actions as ‘senseless cruelty’ as he was sent to a young offenders’ institution for eight weeks.
Prince and his pal shot birds while others they had just targeted lay flapping their wings in agony and even took aim at horses in nearby fields in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire.
Cops managed to catch the brainless teen when he stupidly posted photographs of his macabre exploits on the internet. …

A “bit of fun” eh? That sounds eerily reminiscent of a case of senseless animal cruelty I covered in an earlier blog post entitled, “Just Out For a Bit of Fun.”
It’s good to know that crimes like these are prosecuted (though the punishments for crimes against animals are seldom more than a slap on the wrist). The question is how does the shooting of ducks “for a bit of fun” differ from the legalized blasting of birds in the name of sport? Depending on the species, the shooting of 18 ducks can be well within the “bag limit” set by local “game” departments. And leaving ducks winged and wounded is standard practice for the average bird hunter.

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Remember, Tuesday Is Soylent Green Day

As with Christmas, Thanksgiving has become a rather hedonistic holiday these days. You’d have to pin your ears back, with empty cornucopias held tightly against them, to hear even a faint reference to the giving of thanks through the din of loud chatter about seemingly more important things like football, where to get the best deals on Black Friday, or how to deep fry a turkey. But any thanks you heard would be to “the lord above,” rather than to the victims of the decadent feast.

Completely lost in the hype of “tradition” and “Turkey-day” is any mention of giving even a passing “thank you” to the birds who suffered more indignities than space would allow me to mention here. Indignities that include the fact that turkeys on factory farms receive less than three square feet of personal space. And after they hatch, their beaks are cut off—a standard practice for chickens as well. No anesthesia or painkiller is used for either species. This process, which is known as “debeaking”, has been compared to having the ends of your fingers sliced off. It deprives birds of one of their most important sources of sensory input.

A debeaked bird cannot eat properly or explore his or her environment fully, nor can they preen themselves or their flockmates.  They may also experience acute and chronic pain in their beak, head, and face. In addition to being debeaked, turkeys also have the ends of their toes and their snoods cut off, often with nothing more than a pair of scissors (and as with debeaking, performed without anesthesia).

According to Liberation BC, both chickens and turkeys on modern factory farms have been genetically engineered and pumped with antibiotics; as a result they grow much faster than ever before. For example, in the 1960′s, it took a turkey 32 weeks to reach slaughter size, but now it takes only 13-16 weeks. In the 1950’s, it took a chicken 84 days to reach five pounds. Today, it takes 45 days, meaning that they are not even old enough to cluck yet when they die.

And PETA adds, their unnaturally large size also causes many turkeys to die from organ failure or heart attacks before they are even 6 months old. According to an investigative report in the Wall Street Journal on the miserable conditions on turkey farms, “It’s common in a rearing house to find a dead bird surrounded by four others whose hearts failed after they watched the first one ‘fall back and go into convulsions, with its wings flapping wildly.

Factory farm operators walk through the shed to kill the slow-growing turkeys (so that they don’t eat any more food), such as those who fall ill because of the filthy conditions or become crippled under their own weight.

In Canada, turkeys and chickens can legally be transported for up to 36 hours without food, water, or rest, and there are no limits as to the length of the journey. They are transported in open-air crates, resulting in high mortality as the birds are exposed to all sorts of weather.  Each bird is worth so little, however, that it is cheaper overall for the industry to use open-air crates.  Every year in Canada, 2 million broiler chickens and 20,000 turkeys are already dead when they arrive at slaughterhouses.  An additional 8 million broiler chickens and 200,000 turkeys arrive so diseased or injured that they are considered “unfit for human consumption”.

The surviving birds are handled roughly at the slaughterhouse, where they are unloaded by forklift and dropped onto a conveyor belt. With thousands of birds to be processed every hour, there is no reason for employees to stop and pick up the individual birds who miss the belt and fall to the ground.

When it comes time to slaughter the birds, they are hung by their feet on a moving rail and dragged through the stunning tank, an electrified water bath meant to stun and immobilize them. These are often set lower than is necessary to truly render the birds unconscious out of concerns that high voltage might damage the carcass and therefore diminish its value.

They are then carried past the tank to have their throats cut either by a mechanical blade or a plant employee. Often, struggling birds are cut improperly. As a result they are moved, fully conscious, to the scalding tank, where they are boiled alive.  Estimates place the number of affected birds at about one in twenty; at any rate, this occurrence is so common that the industry has a term for it: “redskins.”   …

Clearly, nobody gives much in the way of thanks to the “most important guest” at the table (as a recent Safeway ad described the turkey carcasses they were selling). You’d be damned lucky to overhear even a cursory mention of the miserable existence their edible “guest” underwent prior to the killing and plucking process. There is scarcely a sign that the hundreds of millions of Americans who gorge on the bodies of 45 million turkeys each year give a whit about whether these amazing and impressive birds had—prior to “harvest”—a life that allowed even a modicum of the freedom they would have experienced before the grossly over-populated human world made them their food-slaves.

Appropriately, I watched the timeless 1970s movie Soylent Green last night. Set in 2022, the film opens with a slide show of earlier eras, back when the Earth was covered with forests and open fields, and there were only a few scattered settlements of people who travelled in horse-drawn wagons.

As the images pass quickly by, we see the first automobiles (tail pipes spewing toxic carbon gases), followed by a massive blacktop parking lot jam packed with Model Ts. The pictures begin to flash almost more rapidly than we can focus, but we catch glimpses of factories with smokestacks billowing and crowds of people barely able to

move without trampling one another. (Come to think of it, what we are witnessing looks a lot like the inside of an average modern-day poultry barn, where Thanksgiving turkeys are forced to live out their lives in intense confinement.)

The first scene of action takes place in a cramped little New York City apartment, the dwelling of the film’s two main characters, Thorn, a semi-corrupt detective, and his elderly room-mate and research partner, Sol, who is constantly going on about the good old days—a world that Thorn can’t possibly envision or relate to.

They are among the lucky few; most people sleep on the stairways or in the hallways or anywhere they can find shelter from the oppressive heat caused by an out of control greenhouse effect. We overhear a program on their worn out old TV which is an interview with the governor of New York, touting a new food product called “Soylent Green,” ostensibly made from the ocean’s plankton. (Everyone in that day and age knows that the land is used up, but they’re told the oceans can still provide for them).

Food in this depressing, human-ravaged world comes in the form of color-coded wafers, distributed under strict government supervision. Hordes of people stand in line for their ration of Soylent yellow or blue made from soy, or other high protein plants grown behind the fortress-walls of heavily guarded farms.

Signs remind the throng that “Tuesday is Soylent Green day.”

The multitudes are exceptionally unruly on Tuesday. Brimming with anticipation, they can’t wait to obtain a ration of the special new product. When they get out of hand, “scoops” (garbage trucks fitted with backhoe-like buckets on the front) are called in to scoop them up and haul them off…

Spoiler Alert:

To make a long story short, by the end of the film, Thorn learns that the oceans are dead and the actual ingredients of Soylent Green are something a bit harder to stomach than plankton. In the final scene, a mortally-wounded Thorn is carried away on a stretcher as he desperately tries to tell skeptical onlookers, “Soylent Green is People!” “They’re making our food out of people. Next thing, they’ll be breeding us like cattle for food!”

Could it ever happen? Could the human race ever stoop so low? If the scenario seems too hard to swallow­, consider this: the conditions animals are forced to endure on today’s factory farms would have seemed unimaginable to people living a hundred years ago.

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The Last “Traditional” Thanksgiving

In the beginning, God created turkeys…well, that’s not exactly true—turkeys evolved in North and Central America somewhere in the neighborhood of twelve million years ago, during the Miocene/early Pliocene epoch—but it makes for a good story.

Turkeys are intelligent, highly social and easily distressed when isolated or kept from their familiar surroundings. Adults can differentiate between friends and possible foe, and have been known to go into attack mode to drive off outsiders. Benjamin Franklin described the turkey as “a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”

Their size, showy feathers and territorial disposition make turkeys an easy target for anyone with a weapon and an unwholesome urge to kill. Native Americans have a long history of feasting on turkeys that began well before the first Thanksgiving—the California turkey was hunted to extinction over 10,000 years ago. Meanwhile, modern human’s industrialized abuse of turkeys is nothing short of barbaric. Man has become so proficient at playing God with the turkey that nowadays the once proudly feathered bird is hardly recognizable. The vast majority of domesticated turkeys are bred to have white feathers because their pin feathers are less visible to the feaster when the carcass is “dressed” (glib jargon meaning butchered and mechanically plucked).

Any compassionate creator would be appalled by the unimaginable scale of institutionalized abuse of turkeys on factory farms or even on pseudo “free range” feel-good farms. Yet, each year turkeys are depicted—appearing at ease or even pleased with their plight—in inane commercials meant to soothe any holiday shopper who may have inadvertently stumbled onto the ugly truth about the suffering and cruelty inherent in the meat industry.

If you’re feasting on the flesh of one of the 45 million turkeys slaughtered this Thanksgiving season, please take a minute to consider the unnecessary suffering your meal caused and make this your last “traditional” Turkey-kill Day. Next year, try celebrating the life of the turkey while you feast on Tofurky or Field Roast, cranberries, candied yams, mashed potatoes, dressing, pumpkin pie and all the other tasty non-animal fixin’s. You may end up stuffed, but at least a bird won’t have to be.

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2012. All Rights Reserved

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