Why kill turkeys to celebrate Thanksgiving?


Millions of turkeys are horrifically raised and killed as mere tokens, but why?

November 28, 2013 by Marc Bekoff, Ph.D. in Animal Emotions

Many of you have heard this question over and over again, “Why kill turkeys to celebrate Thanksgiving?” They say repetition is boring conversation but I feel it’s essential to ask this question repeatedly, because there really

Photo by Jim Robertson

Photo by Jim Robertson

is no reason at all to slaughter and to eat these fascinating sentient beings in the name of a holiday, and turkeys surely are sentient beings (see also). Dr. Ian Duncan, a world-renowned expert on the behavior of food animals notes, based on detailed scientific research, “It is indisputable that poultry are capable of feeling pain. All poultry species are sentient vertebrates and all the available evidence shows that they have a very similar range of feelings as mammalian species. Poultry can suffer by feeling pain, fear, and stress.” More information about the lives of turkeys can be found here.

Turkeys are also very smart and have distinct personalities. People used to write off fish as being unfeeling “lower” animals but we now know, also based on solid scientific research, that they are sentient and feel pain (see also). The more we study other animals the more we learn about how complex their lives are, even for animals previously thought to be unfeeling creatures.

There’s no reason to consume pain and misery: Would you kill and eat your dog?

Holidays should be times for deep reflection. So, please reflect on these facts. More than 45 million turkeys are killed every Thanksgiving. More than 300 million are killed annually. Before they are mercilessly slaughtered individuals are kept in the most inhumane conditions, on the floors of dark, filthy sheds, houses of horrors, where they walk through their own excrement, breathe ammonia-filled air, and are cramped together so tightly they can’t move or get away from one another. As a result there are numerous fights among normally peaceful individuals and they suffer from massive injuries and a wide variety of diseases that humans consume.

Furthermore, when one eats a turkey carcass they are eating a genetically engineered animal and also consuming pain and misery. To keep turkeys from injuring one another their toes and beaks are cut off with hot blades with no anesthetic or analgesic, and when their throat is slit many are still conscious. We know chickens feel empathy and there is every reason to believe that turkeys do too. I know no one would treat their dog like turkeys are treated from birth to their heinous road to death.

There are numerous very tasty non-animal alternatives and even if you don’t think they’re as yummy as a dead bird is it really asking too much to give up something that isn’t a necessary part of your diet? I don’t think so.

Animals shouldn’t be used as token objects of joyous festivities

In order to make changes in the way we live, including who, not what, we eat, we occasionally need to leave our comfort zones. By not turning a blind eye to the incredible suffering that turkeys experience and choosing to forgo eating them, you can add more compassion to the world. You can even adopt a turkey. I urge everyone to try to make this incredibly simple change right now, for this coming holiday and for future celebrations in which animals are consumed as mere token objects of the festivities. I can’t imagine you wouldn’t feel better about yourself. Thank you very much for trying.

Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson; see also), Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation

3 thoughts on “Why kill turkeys to celebrate Thanksgiving?

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