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Archive for November 2010

The real meaning of Thanksgiving

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By Lisa Towell

Turkeys are so closely associated with Thanksgiving that some people simply call the holiday “turkey day.” Thanksgiving-themed art features smiling cartoon birds in Pilgrim hats or plump roasted turkeys on platters.

But we never see the real lives of the birds who become our holiday meals. Virtually all of the 45 million turkeys consumed in the U.S. every Thanksgiving live lives of constant suffering.

Cruel conditions on factory farms frequently make the news, but I wanted to see for myself, so I recently visited a typical turkey farm.

I saw thousands of birds crowded into a vast sunless shed, most with missing feathers and raw patches of skin. Nervous and noisy, the birds ran away in fear and trampled each other when I approached. All the birds had been debeaked without being given painkillers. (Debeaking is a procedure in which the sensitive tip of a bird’s beak is cut off to prevent stress-induced fights.) The birds were living in their own accumulated waste, breathing noxious fumes 24 hours a day.

Wild turkeys live close to my home. I’ve watched them forage for food, roost in trees and care for their babies. Farmed turkeys aren’t able to engage in any of this natural behavior. Bored, frustrated and sick, they struggle to stay alive until they are slaughtered at just 5 or 6 months of age.

Turkeys are imprisoned not just in the sheds but also in their own bodies. Genetically manipulated for extremely rapid growth, the birds have heart attacks and are crippled by their own weight when they are just a few months old. Because of high consumer demand for white meat, turkeys are bred to have such large breasts that they can’t even reproduce naturally. Your Thanksgiving turkey is the product of artificial insemination.

At the turkey farm, I saw birds living in unnatural conditions and constant discomfort. What goes on behind the scenes is even worse. Many turkeys will die on the farm, and none of them will be humanely euthanized by a veterinarian. Sick, crippled and slow-growing birds are often beaten to death by factory-farm workers. At the slaughterhouse, many birds’ bones are broken as a result of rough handling. The turkeys move so quickly through the assembly-line slaughter process that some enter the scalding-hot water of the defeathering tanks when they’re alive and still conscious.

I have visited rescued turkeys at animal sanctuaries. Each bird has a unique personality. Friendly and curious, the more outgoing birds approached me and allowed me to stroke their soft heads and necks. These gentle animals are no less worthy of humane treatment than the dogs and cats we share our homes with.

For many people, eating a turkey is an essential part of the Thanksgiving tradition, but is tradition more important than treating animals with compassion? Historical evidence suggests that wild turkeys were eaten at the 1621 harvest celebration in Plymouth Colony—but that feast probably also included eels and acorns, which were commonly eaten by the Pilgrims at the time. Clearly, the definition of “traditional Thanksgiving food” has evolved since then. For everyone who is opposed to cruel treatment of animals, it’s time for another change to the holiday menu. Would it really be so difficult for us to stop eating a food that most people eat only once a year?

My family has a Thanksgiving ritual in which we go around the table sharing things that we are grateful for. Over the years, we have expressed our thankfulness for health, for family and friends gathered together, for financial security and for a delicious dinner. When I stopped eating turkey at Thanksgiving, the essence of the holiday was not lost. Thanksgiving is about the joy of breaking bread with the people I love and the pleasure of a tasty, lovingly prepared meal. And now I am grateful for something else—that by choosing not to eat a turkey, we have spared an animal from lifelong suffering.

Lisa Towell is a writer on animal issues in California. She wrote this for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;


Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

November 24, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Posted in factory farming

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Kicking the habit helps animals too

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By Heather Moore

Attention “drag” queens: The Great American Smokeout is November 18. Not only will butting out cigarettes help save your life, it will also help stop animal suffering. While everyone knows that smoking is harmful to humans, contributing to cancer, coronary heart disease and other life-threatening illnesses, relatively few people realize that animals are also dying because of cigarettes. Not only can our beloved animal companions develop cancer from secondhand smoke, just as humans can, monkeys, mice, rats and other animals are cruelly killed in irrelevant laboratory experiments funded by big tobacco companies and government agencies.

If you care about animals, you can do something to stop these deadly experiments: Stop smoking.

Studies published this year show that animals are still being used to test the “safety” of cigarette ingredients—and to determine whether harmful substances are actually, um, harmful—even though non-animal test methods are readily available. For example, in order to test the safety of a compound that’s used to keep tobacco moist, experimenters with Philip Morris stuffed more than 500 rats into tiny canisters and forced tobacco smoke into their noses six hours a day for 90 consecutive days. The rats were then killed and dissected.

Experimenters funded by R.J. Reynolds spread concentrated cigarette smoke particles on more than 800 rats’ skin three times a week for more than four months so that they would develop skin tumors. These rats were also then killed and cut apart.

Researchers have also laced animals’ food with tobacco in order to study the effects of ingesting smokeless tobacco. Not surprisingly, the animals suffered devastating health problems, including damaged eyes, skin and internal organs; weight loss; and genital swelling.

We already know that pregnant women who smoke—or are exposed to smoke—endanger their unborn babies, but that didn’t stop experimenters at the University of California–Davis from locking eight pregnant rhesus monkeys into chambers and exposing them to smoke for six hours a day, five days a week during the last two months of the monkeys’ pregnancies. The experimenters continued to pump cigarette smoke into the enclosures for two months after the babies were born. When the babies were 2 1/2 months old, they were taken from their mothers, killed and dissected so that experimenters could see how the smoke had affected their arteries.

Versions of these inhumane and unnecessary experiments have been conducted before. In previous years, researchers exposed pregnant monkeys to nicotine to observe its detrimental effects on their fetuses, made mice and rats breathe cigarette smoke to test the effects of adding high-fructose corn syrup to cigarettes as a flavoring agent, cut live dogs’ chests open to study how cigarette smoke causes airway irritation and much more.

None of these cruel experiments is required by U.S. law—American Spirit cigarettes are not tested on animals—and they wouldn’t even be legal if conducted in Belgium, Germany or the U.K., where smoking experiments on animals have been banned.

PETA has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban smoking experiments on animals in America as well. Non-animal test methods are readily available and are more relevant to humans; in fact, all the tobacco product tests required in Canada are non-animal tests. Animals don’t make good models for humans. Different animals have different reactions to toxins, and animals in laboratories aren’t exposed to nicotine in the same manner, or time frame, as humans. Besides, we already know from clinical research—and from basic common sense—that nicotine is bad for us.

The next time you’re “dying for a cigarette,” please remember that animals are dying too. They’re dying for you to quit smoking.

Heather Moore is a research specialist for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

November 17, 2010 at 10:29 pm

Greyhounds: Racing to the grave

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By Jennifer O’Connor

Officials responding to a complaint about a putrid smell at Florida’s Ebro Greyhound Park recently found the bodies of 37 dead and decomposing dogs who had apparently starved to death—as well as five more dogs who were near death. Some of the dogs had duct tape wrapped around their necks. It appears that the owner had intentionally left the greyhounds to die when the racing season ended.

The worst part of this story is that it’s not an isolated incident.

Greyhounds used in the racing industry live in misery and frequently die in misery. The clock starts ticking the day a greyhound is born. Countless greyhounds are killed each year when breeders decide that the dogs won’t be fast enough to win races. Dogs have been shot, bludgeoned or simply dumped to fend for themselves. Those who make the first cut live on borrowed time: Their lives are secure only as long as they make money for their owners.

A few years ago, the bodies of 10,000 greyhounds were uncovered in a U.K. field. The “slow” but otherwise healthy dogs had been killed with a bolt gun.

After 3,000 dead greyhounds were found in a backyard pit on his property, a security guard at a Florida track admitted that he had made money for 40 years by shooting injured or aging dogs.

And at least 140 greyhounds were presumed dead after they disappeared while in the custody of a man who had been paid to haul “losers” to greyhound adoption groups. The dogs were never accounted for and were believed to have been left in the Arizona desert.

Greyhounds are sociable dogs who enjoy lounging on the couch and who crave the love and attention of a family, but when used in racing, they spend the vast majority of their lives in cramped cages and are usually kept muzzled at all times. Although they are extremely sensitive to temperature because of their lack of body fat and their thin coats, greyhounds are forced to race in extreme conditions—ranging from subzero temperatures to sweltering heat. Trainers have been found doping greyhounds with cocaine and other drugs to mask injuries or to get them to run faster.

Greyhounds face many risks from which they have no defense. An employee at Connecticut’s Shoreline Star track used fishing line to tie a dog’s tail to the starting shoot before a race as a “joke.” The dog’s tail was ripped off when he began running. Many greyhounds have died from heat prostration during transport from one racetrack to another. Haulers transport dozens of greyhounds in trucks that can be poorly ventilated and stifling, cramming two or three dogs in each crate. Countless dogs have also perished in kennel fires.

Sickness and injuries—including broken legs, heatstroke and heart attacks—claim the lives of many dogs. During one three-year span, almost 500 greyhounds were seriously injured while racing on Massachusetts tracks alone.

All over the world, an increasingly informed public is refusing to support an industry that treats greyhounds like garbage. Since 2001, 25 greyhound tracks have closed in the U.S. because of declining attendance. In 2010, greyhound racing was banned in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and the U.S. territory of Guam. Barbados, Haiti and Indonesia have all shuttered their once-active tracks.

People who care about dogs should continue to stay away from tracks and betting parlors. If they do, this ruthless industry will eventually be relegated to the history books once and for all.

Jennifer O’Connor is a research specialist with the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

November 10, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Another reason to think twice about HRT

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By Bobbie Mullins

Ever since 2002, when the landmark Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) abruptly halted its study of combination hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after researchers found compelling evidence that women who take estrogen plus progestin are at increased risk of breast cancer, heart attacks and strokes, HRT has come under increased scrutiny.

Now, a follow-up study has revealed a new and even more alarming twist: Not only is HRT linked to breast cancer, it is also linked to more advanced forms of the disease that result in even more deaths. Data from the WHI study have also revealed that HRT is linked to ovarian and lung cancer.

Like many women, I stopped hormone replacement therapy—after taking Premarin for years—because of the health risks (although I’d read about the cancer link long before the WHI study came out). But then I learned that there’s another reason to think twice about HRT. Premarin and Prempro, two of the most widely prescribed estrogen replacement drugs, contain a surprising secret ingredient: animal suffering.

It sounds ridiculous—especially with so many options available to drug manufacturers—but Wyeth’s Premarin and Prempro are made from the estrogen-rich urine of pregnant horses. Every year, thousands of pregnant mares are confined to PMU (pregnant mares’ urine) farms in the U.S. and Canada. They are kept in stalls that are so small, the animals are unable to take more than a step or two in any direction. The cumbersome rubber urine-collection bags that mares must wear at all times chafe their legs and prevent them from lying down comfortably. Some farmers tie up horses so tightly that they cannot lie down at all in their narrow stalls.

And although equine veterinarians say that horses need daily exercise, some mares are forced to stay in their cramped stalls for months at a time.

Farmers are also encouraged to limit horses’ access to water so that the estrogen in their urine will become more concentrated. This practice causes dehydrated mares to fight—and sometimes become injured—as they struggle to drink during water-distribution times. It also causes serious health problems. One veterinarian who worked on PMU farms told U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors that he’d seen mares suffering from renal and liver problems as a result of insufficient drinking water.

The thousands of foals who are born on PMU farms each year fare no better than their mothers. Some are used to replace exhausted mares, many of whom have been confined to PMU farms for up to 20 years. But most of the remaining foals, along with the worn-out mares, are sold at auction, where they are bought by “kill buyers” for slaughterhouses.

Horse rescue groups would gladly take some of these foals. But according to the founders of one such group in Arizona, Wyeth actually forbids farm owners from giving or selling PMU horses to rescue organizations for fear of the bad publicity that results when the horses’ plight is discussed in the media.

Not surprisingly, the use of Premarin and Prempro has plummeted since WHI’s findings were first publicized. But some doctors continue to prescribe these drugs out of habit—and some women continue to take them for the same reason.

Fortunately, a growing number of physicians are now recommending alternative therapies to manage the symptoms of menopause. HRT drugs made from plant sources or synthetics, for example, more closely mimic the estrogen found in human ovaries. As I can attest, adopting healthy habits also helps. I stopped drinking wine and coffee and incorporated soy foods into my diet and was rarely bothered by hot flashes. Women can also combat hot flashes by exercising regularly, quitting smoking and eating low-fat foods—which is smart advice for anyone.

They say that menopause makes women do strange things. It doesn’t get much stranger than taking a pill made from animal urine. But I’m willing to bet that most women, if they knew the truth about Premarin, would find it a bitter pill to swallow.

Bobbie Mullins lives in Norfolk, Va. She wrote this for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;