Animal Emotions

Do animals think and feel?

The Thanksgiving Day Massacre: A House of Horrors

Why give thanks by slaughtering sentient beings?

I know 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 is no reason at all to slaughter 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. 

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A magnificent wild turkey

Holidays should be times for deep reflection. Ponder these facts. More than 45 million turkeys are killed every Thanksgiving. More than 300 million are killed annually. Before they are mercilessly slaughtered they are kept in the most inhumane conditions, on the floors of dark, filthy sheds, a house 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 variety of diseases. 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. 

A typical battery cage

There are numerous 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. 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 simple change right now, for this coming holiday. I can't imagine you wouldn't feel better about yourself. Thank you for trying. 

I just arrived in Vancouver and on the plane ride up here I was talking with the guy next to me and it came to me that many people who don't normally think about other animals rightfully got incredibly upset about the recent bloodbath in Zanesville, Ohio but most seem totally unconcerned with this bloodbath and the massacre of other factory farmed and other food animals that involves hundreds of millions of more sentient beings.

 

 

 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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