Thanksgiving Turkey Nightmare: Butterball Abuse, Better Alternatives

wfm turkey.jpg
Whole Foods Market
Do you know how your turkey was treated?
Thanksgiving is less than a week away and you're planning a traditional holiday dinner, which includes a golden turkey as the showpiece of the meal.

Before you head to the supermarket, know what you're buying. Many frozen and fresh turkeys sold at major chains and big box warehouses come from factory farms, known for their abusive conditions.

Mercy for Animals conducted an undercover investigation and witnessed firsthand the abuse these birds are subjected to.

A video shot at a North Carolina Butterball farm shows workers throwing turkeys against steel crates, kicking the birds, and grabbing them by the wings and neck. One worker notices maggots living inside the flesh of a barely-alive bird:

The footage was shown to Dr. Greg Burkett, the North Carolina State University avian veterinarian who accompanied law enforcement on a 2011 raid at Butterball stemming from an MFA investigation. Upon viewing this new footage, Dr. Burkett said, "The abuses shown in this video are identical to the abuses documented in last year's Butterball investigation, which led to criminal cruelty to animals charges and convictions. These behaviors are cruel, inhumane, and injurious to the birds. I am appalled at the disrespect these workers have toward the lives of other living creatures."

Butterball, which provides about 30 percent of the turkeys sold for Thanksgiving, is a member of the National Turkey Federation which states on its website that the federation "does not condone the mistreatment of turkeys." According to the federation, about 248 million turkeys were raised in the United States in 2011, and that figure stands to remain constant in 2012.

Short Order received the following statement from a Butterball spokesperson:
"Butterball is aware of the video released today by Mercy for Animals, and we take any allegations of animal mistreatment very seriously. As has been our long-standing policy, we have a zero tolerance policy for animal abuse. Any employee found to have violated our animal care and well-being guidelines, as well as any employee who witnessed abuse and failed to report it, will be terminated. Butterball's guidelines are based on guidelines developed by the National Turkey Federation that have been approved by animal well-being experts including Dr. Joy Mench at University of California at Davis, Dr. Janice Swanson from Michigan State University and Dr. Gail Golab at the American Veterinary Medical Association, among others.

When we learn of any instances of animal mistreatment, we take immediate corrective action to suspend workers involved, conduct a swift investigation and terminate their employment with the company. Upon learning of these new concerns, we immediately initiated an internal investigation and suspended the associates in question. Pending the completion of that investigation, Butterball will then make a determination on additional actions including immediate termination for those involved.

Animal care and well-being is central to the operations of our company, and we remain committed to the ethical and responsible care of our turkey flocks."
The best way to enjoy Thanksgiving guilt-free is to purchase a turkey from small, local farms that humanely treat the birds -- or to forgo the bird altogether.

  • Scooby's Organic Farm in Davie is a family-run facility where chickens and turkeys are free to roam and eat an organic diet.
  • Whole Foods Market uses a five-step animal welfare system from Global Animal Partnership to share exactly how the turkey you're about to purchase has been raised, from step one (no crates, cages, or crowding) to step five (an animal centered existence with the bird spending its entire life on one farm).
  • The Healthy Food Club offers organic, humanely-raised turkeys from Miller's Organic Farm in Pennsylvania to members ($35 annual fee).
  • Skip the turkey altogether and plan an all-side dish meal or opt for a meat-free main course like fresh seafood or a hearty baked ziti. And, of course, there's always Tofurky.

Follow Laine Doss on Twitter @LaineDoss and Facebook.

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Whole Foods Market

6701 Red Road, South Miami, FL

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