Ethical Eating

Thanksgiving Horror Stories: Pig Abuse, Dead Presidentially Pardoned Turkeys

Today, NBC ran a story about pig abuse at an Oklahoma farm that supplied animals to Tyson Foods. An undercover video shot by Mercy for Animals in September or October of this year shows workers "kicking, hitting, and throwing pigs and slamming piglets into the ground." The video, a public relations nightmare for Tyson, prompted the food giant to terminate its contract with the farm and take possession of the remaining animals. Gary Mickelson, a spokesman for Tyson Foods said, "We're extremely disappointed by the mistreatment shown in the video and will not tolerate this kind of animal mishandling."

So, does this story have a happy ending? Of course not! This isn't the only time Tyson's farms were caught in the act of animal abuse.

See also: Where to Buy Local, Free-Range Turkeys

In May 2012, the Humane Society of the United States released a video of Tyson Foods' supplier Wyoming Premium Farms in Wyoming. In it, workers are shown "kicking living piglets like soccer balls, swinging sick piglets in circles by their hind legs, striking mother pigs with their fists, and repeatedly and forcefully kicking them as they resisted leaving their young." The video is quite graphic:

And, of course, Tyson Foods doesn't let chickens get away with any better treatment. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released findings from an undercover investigation of Tyson chicken slaughterhouses in Georgia and Tennessee. There, they taped heinous abuses like workers urinating in the live-hang areas and birds' backs broken while they were still alive. Watch here:

So are there any happy endings? Do any animals live out their lives like Wilbur, the pig in Charlotte's Web? How about those turkeys that get pardoned by the president each year? Don't they spend their lives grazing at Mount Vernon? Yes, but their lives are very short, indeed.

U.S. News and World Report just issued a report that all of the turkeys pardoned by President Obama are dead.

Gobbler and Cobbler, the pair destined to be saved from the chopping block in 2012, have gone to the big feast in the sky. According to the story, Cobbler, last year's official pardoned turkey, was euthanized on August 22, and Gobbler died last February. 2011's turkeys, Peace and Liberty, have both passed on as well.

Apparently, this is because the turkeys pardoned by the president are raised to have more "meat on their bones. Like us, having too much flesh causes obesity and all the side effects that can occur -- heart disease, joint problems, and untimely death.

The Humane Society of the United States says that "wild turkeys and farm-raised turkeys have very different lives. Wild turkeys can live up to 12 years, weigh about 18 pounds, and spend their days foraging for food. By contrast, a male turkey on a factory farm lives about 136 days, weighs 35 pounds, and is anything but a free bird." Here's some abuse at a turkey hatchery, where baby turkeys start their lives on a conveyor belt and life gets worse from there:

Is there a moral to this tragic tale? Yes, and it's not necessarily to go vegan or vegetarian (although those are solid cruelty-free options).

See also: The Veggieducken: How to Make This Vegan Thanksgiving Masterpiece (Video)

If you're going to eat meat, buy from a small farm where animals are humanely raised and treated with respect. Purchase your holiday turkeys locally, shop only at markets that have stated animal welfare standards, like Whole Foods Market, and ask questions. Get informed.

This Thanksgiving, give the turkeys, pigs, and chickens a reason to be thankful too.

See also: Where to Buy Local, Free-Range Turkeys

Follow Laine Doss on Twitter @LaineDoss and Facebook.

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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times, covering the restaurant and bar scene in South Florida. She has been featured on Cooking Channel’s Eat Street and Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race. Doss won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature on what it’s like to wait tables. In a previous life, she appeared off-Broadway and shook many a cocktail as a bartender at venues in South Florida and New York City. When she’s not writing, you can find Doss running some marathon then celebrating at the nearest watering hole.
Contact: Laine Doss