Despite a significant decline in recent years, 14 million turkeys were still slaughtered in the UK in 2017 and 2 million in December alone.
Many of these unfortunate birds are killed simply for the Christmas dinner table.
Despite the huge growth in veganism within Britain over the past few years, and a wealth of evidence showing that we should be eating less animal products, turkeys are still killed in staggering numbers.
Modern farmed turkeys descend from their wild counterparts that live in North and Central America. They are opportunistic omnivores and, in their natural environment, they roost in trees and roam around the woodlands eating a wide variety of plants and insects. They are naturally inquisitive birds who enjoy foraging.
Intensive factory farms are by far the most common system of turkey farming in Britain with up to 25,000 individual birds crammed together in dingy sheds – most will never see daylight until they are loaded onto trucks on route to meet a terrifying end at the slaughterhouse.
Despite the huge numbers, people are waking up ... thanks to the work of Viva! shining a light on factory farming, and the good news is there is a decline in turkey sales. In 1997 40 million turkeys were slaughtered; in 2004 over 21 million, and in 2017, 14 million. This means our work is more important than ever as a kinder world is in sight.
Unfortunately eating turkeys has become ingrained into people’s minds as an essential part of the Christmas affair, so much so that last year the media headlines were “Christmas could be CANCELLED as turkey shortage hits Britain”, yet we’ve only been eating turkeys during this time of the year for a few hundred years. It was during the 16th century that turkey started to become popular, when Spaniards imported them from America. Henry VIII was apparently the first English king to eat turkey, but Edward VII made it fashionable to eat them at Christmas.
Although turkeys were first bred domestically over two thousand years ago, the intensive breeding methods we see today have developed rapidly over the last three or four decades. Like chickens and other birds bred for meat, the emphasis is on developing breeds that grow rapidly with large amounts of breast meat. The modern farmed turkey is therefore much heavier than his wild counterparts. The average weight of a wild male turkey is around 7.5 kilogrammes. However, through selective breeding, a male domesticated turkey may reach as much as 25 kilogrammes in just 20 weeks (around the same size as a six-year-old boy). The stress of carrying such an unnaturally heavy body can result in joint pain and degeneration of the joints.
In the wild, turkeys can reach speeds of 25 miles per hour, and an adult turkey can fly for short distances of speeds up to 50 miles per hour. Whilst commercially-farmed turkeys are unable to fly, they of course still want to stretch their wings, run, explore their environment, and sit on raised perches. However, many are denied their natural urges due to restrictive housing.. Over 90 per cent of turkeys in the UK are reared on the floor of large, purpose-built windowless sheds. Aside from the feeders and drinkers present, the sheds bear few opportunities for the birds to express natural behaviours. The floor is covered in litter and, by the end of the growing period, as much as 80 per cent of the litter may be made up of the turkeys’ own faeces. This results in ammonia build up, ulcerated feet and painful (hock) burns on the turkeys’ legs and breasts.
If you go into any supermarket, you may well see hock burn marks on turkey carcasses. Disturbingly, researchers from Cambridge University found hock burns in 82 per cent of the chickens they examined. Some meat processors try to hide them by removing them prior to packaging up the animals - as it is a clear sign that all was not well in the turkeys' short and miserable life.
Farmed turkeys are usually slaughtered between the ages of 12 and 26 weeks although, according to Defra, some may be as young as eight weeks. Their terrifying journeys have been captured by local The Save Movement groups nationwide – crammed into crates they begin their terrifying ordeal to the abattoir.
At the slaughterhouse they may be live shackled upside down before hitting an electrified water bath – some will flap their wings and receive electric shocks, others will not be stunned properly. All will have their throats cut.
So, what can you do? Well it’s very simple; ditch the meat and go vegan for Christmas. There are many different websites offering a wide range of cruelty-free recipes for the festive season. You can go for a Chestnut Wellington, nut roast, stuffed peppers, aubergine towers or you can even buy a Cheatin’ Celebration Roast; off the shelf and into the oven! Having a vegan Christmas is not only important for the reasons above but also for symbolic reasons. Cooking and sharing delicious cruelty-free food at this time of year sends a positive message to friends and family.
Viva! have produced a handy Deliciously Vegan Christmas guide with sumptuous recipes ranging from classic to modern – and all 100 per cent animal-free. The guide is available to buy from www.viva.org.uk/shop or find it on Viva!’s wonderful new Christmas pages here.
It’s time to give the turkeys a break and opt for a kinder, healthier Christmas this year.