Friday, November 19, 2010

A Humane Angle on Thanksgiving

From Zoo Too News:

NASHUA, N.H. ─ Please pass the squash and cranberry to Reese, a shelter turkey enjoying Thanksgiving feast.

That’s correct, according to Michelle King, spokeswoman for Farm Sanctuary. The animal welfare organization is selling tickets for Nov. 20’s “Celebration FOR the Turkeys,” a holiday alternative going off at Orland, Calif. and Watkins Glen, N.Y.

“The highlight of the event, of course, is our unique Feeding of the Turkeys ceremony,” she said, when the people treat the turkeys to helpings of squash, cranberry and pumpkin pie.

Or join the “Adopt-a-Turkey” campaign, King said, and save a turkey, instead of eating one. Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres is this year’s spokeswoman.

“It’s a way to celebrate a more compassionate holiday by being grateful and thankful over plant food, instead of over the carcass of a bird,” Farm Sanctuary founder Gene Baur said.

Several other animal rights groups also are hoping to draw attention to inhumane treatment of turkeys at factory farms. Farm Sanctuary started the first Adopt-a-Turkey campaign back in 1986. Initially, it was a hard sell, but Baur believes the alternative Thanksgiving is catching on. As proof, he points to sales of “a lot more non-meat products,” such as Tofu Turkey. He sees “more energy around a plant-based Thanksgiving.”

Turkey production did drop two percent this year, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture projections. But the $3.6 billion industry was still expected to raise 242 million turkeys.

Forty-six million will be slaughtered for Thanksgiving, said Farm Sanctuary spokeswoman Meredith Turner.

Indeed, a vegetarian Thanksgiving is not typical, according to Sherrie Rosenblatt, spokeswoman for the National Turkey Federation.

“Nearly all Americans celebrating Thanksgiving will have turkey at the center of the plate,” she said, but added people who don’t have the turkey will choose from other traditional side dishes.

But Farm Sanctuary has put six turkeys up for adoption this year, King said. Some people actually take their adopted turkey home, King said, but most send a $30 contribution.

Christina Alvarez-Correa, 11, of New York City, said her family sent a donation and adopted one of the babies.

She’ll celebrate the holiday by eating other dishes.

“I’ll have some mashed potatoes,” she said. “I’m just thinking how many people are in the U.S., and they’re all eating turkey,” she said. “Me not eating, it’s one less. More turkeys will be alive.”

Twenty-two turkeys currently live at the New York shelter; seventeen are in the California shelter, King said. Some came to the farm after being seized as evidence in animal cruelty cases, according to Baur. Slaughterhouse workers, who wanted to put a stop to the suffering, delivered a few others, he said.

Farm Sanctuary has since 1986 saved more than 1,000 turkeys from slaughterhouses and other deplorable conditions, King said.

Asked about the factory farm issue, Rosenblatt said the turkey farmer’s top priority is the flocks’ “health and well being,” so they can deliver a quality product to market.

According to Baur, turkeys lead a miserable existence.

“They can’t even reproduce naturally,” he said. The males are so fattened up for breast meat, they can’t mount; as a result, the birds are “milked” for semen.

“That’s where it starts,” he said, but the mistreatment doesn’t end there. At birth, babies are debeaked, so they won’t injure other birds. They’re packed tight together in pens. Some farms cut off parts of their toes.

“People want to be compassionate,” he said, “but the more like us animals are, the easier it is to relate to them. It’s easier for people to relate to mammals. Birds are not so well understood.”

Animal behavior experts say turkeys are social animals, Turner said. They recognize each other’s voices; they bond and show affection and emotions.

“Turkeys,” Baur said, “have feelings and deserve to be treated with compassion and respect.”

For more information about Adopt-a Turkey, go to: