The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity. George Bernard Shaw had one of his characters make this observation over a century ago, and it remains true.
Christmas is supposed to be the season of peace and goodwill to all. What a shame that it doesn’t extend to the holiday table. This year, the majority of families around Australia will again slip on their paper hats, pull a Christmas cracker and then tear into a roasted turkey who was cruelly killed for nothing more than a fleeting taste of flesh.
More than 56 billion animals are killed for our tables every year. Globally, more than six million die in abattoirs every single hour. In Australia, some 5 million turkeys are slaughtered annually, most at Christmastime.
Turkeys, like all other animals, experience pain and fear.
They’re also capable of affection, sitting for hours while their feathers are stroked. They’re gentle beings but will protect other turkeys with whom they’ve bonded.
And don’t believe the popular misconception: turkeys are actually remarkably intelligent and, like cats and dogs, playful individuals with their own personalities who can recognise one another by their chirping and gobbling.
In the wild, young turkeys stay with their mothers for four to five months. Their natural life span is 10 years.
There’s nothing natural or pleasant about the lives of turkeys raised for slaughter.
Turkeys on farms are often crammed by the tens of thousands into a single broiler shed that provides no light and little ventilation.
The young birds have their beaks trimmed, and often their toes are clipped, too – the ends are amputated – without anaesthetics in order to prevent them from pecking or clawing at one another as they scramble for water and food.
Their diet is very caloric so as to fatten them up quickly to twice the weight of their wild cousins, but unable to support the excess weight, some have to drag themselves around the filthy floor by their wings.
At 20 weeks old, the terrified birds are shoved into crates and hauled off to abattoirs, where they’re hung upside down by their legs on a moving line.
The pain they experience as their heavy (up to 30 kg) bodies hang in shackles is considerable, made even worse by the diseased hip joints that many of them suffer from.
Next, they’re run through an electrically charged stun bath that leaves them unconscious – but not always – before their throats are finally cut. Those who don’t bleed to death are boiled to death in the scalding tank used to remove their feathers.
If Christmas is all about kindness and compassion, why do we celebrate it by piling our plates high with the corpses of animals forced to endure such terrible suffering? The mass killing that goes on year in and year out is incompatible with a holiday message of tolerance and generosity.
This Christmas, let’s choose to be kind. It costs us nothing to leave animals off our plates and instead enjoy tasty, nutritious and easy-to-prepare vegan meals. Have yourself a merry little Christmas feast, without the cruelty.
Jason Baker, director of campaigns, PETA Australia