I like turkey: roasted after a good brine, injected with butter and cognac. What I don't like are the factories that make some of the 45 million turkeys that will be cooked and eaten tomorrow. This extremely disturbing video shows why:
WARNING: STRONG CONTENT
This video was recently obtained by the US Humane Society. It was recorded this year at the Willmar Poultry Company hatchery in Willmar, Minnesota, the largest in the United States [see update at the end for exclusive photos]
Lasers and baby turkeys
For a culture that congratulates itself for its advancements, it's amazing that we are not using our formidable technology to make the life of these birds even a little bit better. These scenes are repeated in many other slaughterhouses around the United States. It would be naive to think that mass turkey manufacturing is a story of happy birds roaming around the pastures, picking grains and snails. It's a tale of growth acceleration and hot lasers used to slice the beaks off baby birds.
First, hens are artificially inseminated so that they will produce as many impregnated eggs as possible in the shortest amount of time. The incubation period is accelerated with artificial lighting and heat—a rudimentary process that has been used for decades without any changes.
When the chicks are born, they suffer surgery. Special machines and lasers remove their beaks; scissors cut off their talons. Why? Farmers don't want the turkeys to damage each other—lowering their market value—when they are crammed in boxes and rooms too small for their needs. In some places, injured chicks are dropped alive into a grinding machine.
If a chick is injured, it's cheaper to get rid of it.
Once the chicks grow fat—after three to four months crammed into a brooding barn—they are moved to packaging plants in crates, usually by truck. They are killed; their feathers are removed, and their bodies are cleaned and packaged to be sold at the supermarket.
WARNING: STRONG CONTENT
Of course, an animal that is raised for consumption has to be killed eventually, but during this process, the turkeys are rarely handled with care. Nothing is used to diminish their panic. No technology is used to save them any pain.
Now, I'm not a PETA fan. They often go nuts and border on animal farm fascism, but they have a point about how we treat the animals we eat. I'm not going to go vegetarian and neither should you—unless you don't like meat or fish. As species, humans are the product of 150,000 years of evolution. By design, we are omnivorous; we need to eat a varied diet that goes from grain to meat. It's in our nature.
But that doesn't mean that we should allow mass-production of food continue in this manner—or that we should stop mass-producing animals. The world needs the food, and the world is not going to turn vegetarian and start eating algae tomorrow.
Bad technology vs good technology
But something has changed. Now we have tools at our disposal that can solve many of these problems without having to use burning lasers on baby animals. We can use our technology to make this process humane and sustainable. People like Temple Grandin were able to optimize the production of beef from mass farming to mass slaughtering, greatly reducing cows' suffering through the use of her engineering skills and observation powers. The same could be applied to other food industries.
Grandin showed us that animals don't have to be mistreated; that there's no excuse, technological or otherwise, that could justify the mass production of food under the conditions that reign in many of factories across the country. Not because animals can feel fear—which they can—and physical pain—which they definitely experience—but because we can do better.
Until the solutions come, and if you can afford it, I'd recommend shunning the Butterballs of this world and try to get a free-range turkey or chicken or just get anything else that you know has been treated in a nice way. However, 45 million free-range turkeys would probably invade the entire United States and parts of Tijuana. That's why we need technology, to optimize mass production with zero pain and fear cost for turkeys or any other animals.
Update: A reader who works at a turkey hatchery in Minnesota, wrote us to tell us the following:
I work at a Jennie-O turkey hatchery in MN. Everything on that video is true and industry standard not just happening at WPC. The only difference is that when we destroy the poults at the end of the day we gas then 100 at a time in a garbage bad using co2. In my short time working for Jennie-O I have seeing thousands of crippled birds left sitting in plastic totes waiting to be killed. I have seeing birds stepped on and left on the floor with their insides squeezed out. It is a very cruel world for an animal to be born into, but I do believe that grinding them is more humane than gassing as the death is instant and painless where gassing they are left gaping for air for ten plus minutes before they finally suffocate. It is a sad world what corporate farms have done to our food in America and around the world.
I an unsure if you will be updating the article or not, but if you do I would like to stay anonymous due to non disclosure agreements. I can provide pictures if requested.
Update 2: Here are the horrible pictures this employee got.