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Archive for November 2009

Tormenting turkeys: Not in the holiday spirit

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 By Dan Paden

On Thanksgiving, millions of Americans will gather around dead turkeys to give thanks for the blessings in their lives. Turkeys, of course, have nothing to be thankful for.


Before they’re slaughtered, these smart, social birds, who enjoy having their feathers stroked and gobbling along to music, spend five to six months packed together so tightly in dark sheds that flapping a wing or stretching a leg is nearly impossible.

To keep the frustrated, cramped birds from pecking and clawing at one another, factory workers cut off parts of the birds’ toes and a portion of their upper beaks. These procedures are known to cause chronic and acute pain. The males’ snoods, the fleshy appendage under their chin, are also chopped off—without any pain relievers.


Miserable and suffering, the birds must stand mired in their own waste, breathing strong ammonia fumes which burn their eyes and lungs. Some birds develop congestive heart disease, enlarged livers and other illnesses. Millions of turkeys succumb to “starve-out,” a stress-induced condition that causes young birds to stop eating.

To keep more birds alive under the dismal, disease-ridden conditions—and to stimulate their growth—farmers dose them with antibiotics. Because the birds are drugged and bred to grow so large in such a short period of time, their bones can’t support their weight, and many suffer from broken legs. Some birds attempt to drag themselves by their wings to reach food and water.

Turkeys are vulnerable to all kinds of gratuitous cruelty. Last fall, a PETA investigator went undercover at Aviagen Turkeys in West Virginia and caught workers stomping on turkeys, punching them, beating them with pipes and boards and twisting the birds’ necks repeatedly. One worker even bragged about shoving a broomstick down a turkey’s throat because the bird had pecked at him. When the investigator told a supervisor about the cruelty he witnessed, the supervisor responded, “Every once in awhile, everybody gets agitated and has to kill a bird.” Following the investigation, a grand jury indicted three workers on animal abuse charges, several of which were felony offenses.


The hideous abuse witnessed at Aviagen Turkeys—the self-proclaimed “world’s leading poultry breeding company”—is typical in factory farms and slaughterhouses. Workers at a Butterball slaughterhouse in Ozark, Arkansas, for example, were documented punching and stomping on turkeys, and slamming them against walls, and the manager of a turkey factory farm in Minnesota was seen wringing turkeys’ necks and bludgeoning turkeys to death.


But even when turkeys raised for food aren’t gratuitously abused, they still suffer greatly.

In slaughterhouses, the terrified birds are hung upside-down and their heads are dragged through an electrified “stunning tank,” which immobilises the birds but does not kill them. Many turkeys dodge the tank and are still conscious when their throats are cut. If the knife or the back-up killer expected to be on duty fails to cut the birds’ throats properly, the animals are scalded to death in the tanks of boiling water used for feather removal.


Anyone who eats turkey contributes to this horrific cruelty, often in the name of celebration. Of the more than 300 million turkeys killed for food every year in the U.S., more than 72 million are slaughtered to be eaten for holiday meals.


Causing pain and suffering hardly seems like the holiday spirit. Let’s all give birds a break by choosing tasty vegan alternatives to turkey at the holidays and all year round.


Dan Paden is a senior research associate in PETA’s Cruelty Investigations Department, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510. For information about PETA, visit



Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

November 20, 2009 at 8:09 pm

Posted in factory farming

4-H: Cruel to animals and kids

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By Jennifer O’Connor

Like most little girls, my stepdaughter loves animals. She joined a local 4-H club when she was 9, solely because “cows are cool.” Now that the fall 4-H animal auctions are upon us, I can’t help but remember Bonnie’s first “assignment”—a beautiful cow named Dana with long lashes and ears as soft as velvet. We all grew to love Dana, but none more so than Bonnie, who spent hours grooming her and walking her on a lead. 

I had misgivings about Bonnie’s decision to join 4-H: Unlike an unsuspecting 9-year-old, I knew the ultimate fate of the cows and other animals used in this program.

My fears were realized a couple years into the program when Bonnie learned that Meredith, another one of “her” cows, who was sick and unable to reproduce, had been sold to slaughter for a mere $75. To see such a deep bond so ruthlessly broken was a painful and eye-opening lesson for Bonnie. Her club leader was genuinely puzzled—and irked—by Bonnie’s tears, dismissing her as “sentimental.”

Dana, Meredith, Kath, Elise, Lola. They all had names, personalities and quirks. None was like the others except in one critical way. Like all cows used to provide milk for human consumption, these cows were treated as breeding machines and were artificially impregnated again and again.

Their babies—bellowing and terrified—were removed from them within hours of their births. The mothers were inconsolable, and the babies wide-eyed and quaking. The calves were desperate to latch onto visitors’ fingers—anything to suckle. But instead of being nourished by their mothers’ milk—which went to supermarket dairy cases—the calves were fed a vile powdered nutritional supplement. In a barn full of cows, the frantic calls of mothers and babies became a symphony of suffering.

What does it say about society’s mindset when children are encouraged to participate in a program that ultimately means the death of an animal they’ve befriended and whose trust they actively courted—or when we dismiss a child’s heartbreak at losing a beloved animal friend as weakness? The animals in 4-H programs are destined for one of two fates: They are either sold at auction for slaughter or are used as breeders for future “projects.”

Unfortunately, 4-H provides a mere snapshot of how we systematically desensitize ourselves to the origins of the chops, steaks and wings that we put in our mouths. If most kind people actually stopped to think about it, they’d balk at eating the body parts of an animal who has lived and died in misery. But we take great pains to hide what happens in feedlots and on factory farms. We close our eyes and refuse to hear about the cows, pigs and chickens who are jammed into stalls and cages barely bigger than their bodies and who will never breathe fresh air or see the light of day. Bonnie was admonished for taking her PETA water bottle to fairs and was told to stop.

Bonnie went vegetarian after making the connection that all cows like Dana and Meredith end up on a plate. She hasn’t eaten meat since. She knows that she can’t save all the cows who are used as milk machines on dairy factory farms, but she continues in 4-H because she wants to make life comfortable for at least one cow every year. But that’s little consolation for the billions of other animals raised for food who will never know a kind word or a gentle touch.

Jennifer O’Connor is a writer for the Animals in Entertainment Campaign for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

November 20, 2009 at 7:10 pm

Posted in Entertainment

Leading Alzheimer’s researcher: Animal experiments will not help humans

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By Lawrence A. Hansen, M.D.

The Society for Neuroscience just held its annual conference in Chicago. I attended—not as a member, though neuroscience is my field, but to protest the organization’s stated goal of broadening support for animal research. The society, like animal experimenters everywhere, perceives “growing threats” to animal research and seeks to recruit additional allies with a “vested interest” in promoting animal experimentation.


Every vested interest is entitled to its own propaganda, but such an effort warrants a response from neuroscience researchers who instead advocate kindness to animals.


Neuroscientists with established research credentials and a PETA membership are rare. They are often viewed by faculty colleagues as untrustworthy or even treasonous agents provocateurs as they are inclined to raise both scientific and ethical objections to the most egregious abuses of animals within our own universities. Yet medical school faculty members who are also animal activists are uniquely well-qualified to expose basic scientists’ disingenuous, misleading or overreaching claims that their animal research is scientifically and ethically justified because the results may someday, somehow, possibly benefit humans.


Contrived connections between cruelty-intensive basic neuroscience research and future human welfare is a tacit admission by neuroscientists that the general public, which ultimately funds most research, would recoil in horror from their more grotesque monkey, dog or cat experiments and overwhelmingly condemn them if they knew that they were not going to help humans.


One particularly egregious example is a decades-long series of highly invasive monkey experiments performed at universities across the country to study neural control of visual tracking. Luckless monkeys have coils implanted in both eyes, multiple craniotomies for electrode placements in their brains and head immobilization surgeries in which screws, bolts and plates are directly attached to their skulls. This is followed by water deprivation to produce a “work ethic” so that they will visually track moving objects.


First impressions are usually correct in questions of cruelty to animals, and most of us cannot even bear to look at pictures of these monkeys with their electrode-implanted brains and bolted heads being put through their paces in a desperate attempt to get a life-sustaining sip of water.


Such cruelty is justified in the corresponding grant application by invoking the possibility that the resulting data may allow us to find the cause and cure for diseases such as Alzheimer’s. But we who have spent decades in Alzheimer’s disease research recognize that such a blank-check justification is an ethical bait-and-switch since this neural pathway is not even involved in Alzheimer’s disease and these experiments have never been referenced in real Alzheimer’s disease research.


Because such monkey torture will not lead to improved human health, you don’t need to be an animal rights advocate to wonder if an ethical cost-benefit analysis might conclude that the ends just don’t justify the means, especially since rapid advances in sophisticated high-resolution neuroimaging on humans will very soon obviate the need for such invasive techniques.


Because grant money comes with animal research, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees mandated by the Animal Welfare Act to prevent excessive cruelty have been rendered largely ineffectual, as their membership is stacked predominantly with animal researchers.


Most animal experiments on monkeys, dogs, cats and other animals are not related to human benefit, and describing such research as “humane” requires an Orwellian-newspeak definition of the word. “Humane” means to treat with kindness, consideration or mercy, and as long as words have meanings that cannot be twisted Humpty Dumpty–like into whatever we want them to mean, animal experimentation is not and can never be humane.


Lawrence A. Hansen, M.D., is a board-certified pathologist and neuropathologist and a professor of neuroscience and pathology at the University of California–San Diego, where he also leads the neuropathology core of the Alzheimer Disease Research Center. In March 2009, he was recognized by the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease as one of the top 100 Alzheimer’s disease investigators in the world. Dr. Hansen may be reached c/o People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;



Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

November 5, 2009 at 6:50 pm

The land of the free?

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By Ingrid E. Newkirk


President Obama recently made a historic pledge on gay rights that moved our country closer to that original promise of “liberty and justice for all.”


In my Washington, D.C., neighborhood, gays are not only “out” but out and about: Same-sex couples hold hands on the street and laugh and chat at tables in restaurants. Only a mean soul could begrudge them the joy of being “de-closeted” on a fine autumn evening. And only a dead soul could wish to deny them the basic rights that most of us take for granted.


Washington is where those who feel discriminated against and exploited come to make their case on the streets and in the halls of Congress. You can pop down to Lafayette Park and march with Iranian families protesting their government or visit the National Mall and talk to veterans demanding better care for soldiers. The Capitol has witnessed Martin Luther King Jr.’s masses and Vietnam War protesters.


Twenty years ago, deaf students at Gallaudet University went on strike, demanding a deaf president. When they won, a student wrote, “When slaves rose up against their masters, whites weren’t ready, but the slaves were; when women demanded the vote, men weren’t ready, but women were; and hearing people may not be ready for us to get a deaf president, but we’re ready.”


Those words, and President Obama’s, illuminate the struggle that precedes bestowing respect upon those once regarded as unworthy of consideration. They exemplify the erosion of prejudice.


A few winters ago, I spoke at an international conference on nonviolence. Everyone’s account of oppression seemed to end with the words, “We demand respect―we are human beings.” I spoke of those who feel pain every bit as acutely, love their young every bit as deeply and long for freedom from shackles and the whip every bit as intensely as any human being, but who are not human.


Dinner was lamb. The mouths of people who spoke of ending violence were full of the bodies of animals whose throats had been slit with a knife. But haven’t we always had to be pushed to open our hearts and minds when the suffering is not our own? When will we be able to say, not, “Respect them, for they are human beings,” but rather, “Respect them, for they are sentient beings”?


The animals cannot rise up to claim consideration. They have no power to bring about a revolution. They can only bleat and squeal when they are attacked. Those of us who want to end their suffering must promote their interest in not being eaten, worn, experimented upon or beaten in the circus.


Human beings may not be ready, but animals are ready. They have been ready ever since the day our race declared war on them and made them our slaves. One day, a president may appear at an animal rights convention to say just that. Until then, it’s up to us to relate to those on the plate.


Ingrid E. Newkirk is the founder and president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the author of 12 books on animal protection, including Making Kind Choices, One Can Make a Difference and PETA’s Practical Guide to Animal Rights. She can be reached c/o PETA at 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;


Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

November 2, 2009 at 5:08 pm