Can you remember what you were doing in the first week of September? That’s probably when the turkey you will eat on Christmas Day was born.
As we prepare for the season of peace and goodwill, turkey slaughter has gone into overdrive. Around 14 million turkeys are killed in the UK each year – 2 million in December alone. Most of them spent their lives in cramped industrial sheds – up to 25,000 birds may be confined to just one unit.
The average weight of a wild male turkey is around 7.5kg, but farmers artificially breed them to reach 25kg. The poor birds struggle to cope with this unnatural weight and their legs often break beneath them. Horrible abuses have been repeatedly exposed at various British turkey farms, including workers playing baseball with turkeys at a Bernard Matthews ranch.
The turkeys’ day of execution comes around quickly; in the wild, they could have lived to 10 years of age, but between the ages of just eight weeks and 26 weeks, they are crammed into trucks and driven to the slaughterhouse. There, they panic as they are hung upside down by their legs to have their throats slit. They are sometimes killed with gas, or by strangulation. Weirdly, the supermarkets don’t show you that in their cosy festive ads.
The lives and deaths of alternative Christmas poultry are no happier. Every day in the UK, 2.5m chickens are slaughtered for meat. Most never saw the light of day until they were driven to the slaughterhouse at the age of six weeks. By that stage, many of them are crippled, their young bones unable to support their distorted body weight. Geese have endured a similar hell.
And how do pigs in blankets arrive on your Christmas table? Approximately 10m pigs are slaughtered in the UK each year, many of them as young as just six months. About 60 per cent of sows reared in the UK are imprisoned in metal farrow crates which are just a few centimetres bigger than them. Little piglets have their ears punctured, teeth clipped, and tails cut without anaesthetic before being grown to the required size.
This week, footage from a farm supplying the UK market showed caged piglets being booted in their heads and suffering deep, open wounds. There were no blankets for them. One third of pigs in the UK are slaughtered in gas chambers. These animals, which are more intelligent than dogs and smarter than three-year-old humans, scream during the final moments of their short, sad lives.
Even the cream or brandy butter on your Christmas pudding has its own horrific story. On dairy farms, female cows are artificially inseminated in “rape racks” from the age of 15 months. When they give birth, their calf will be brutally removed within 36 hours so dairy farmers can steal and sell you the milk that is meant for the baby. If the baby is male, he will be considered a byproduct and killed quickly. If the baby is female, she will be pushed into the same rapacious cycle as her mother. Once her body is exhausted from the abuse, she will be sent to the slaughterhouse and killed.
The final insult to the animals who are tortured and killed for your Christmas dinner comes as plentiful leftovers are scraped into the bin. If killing animals to eat them is barbaric, then killing them to not eat them is surely even worse.
I realise none of these simple truths about the meat racket are easy to stomach, but this cruelty and bloodshed only happens if you pay for it at the checkout. The good news is that more and more people are waking up and ditching their part in this horror. A recent survey suggested that there are now 3.5m vegans in the UK. Supermarkets and restaurants are launching more and more delicious vegan dishes, including plant-based turkey roasts, vegan pigs-in-blankets and other Christmas options.
Whatever your favourite meat, dairy or eggy meal is, you can now eat a vegan version of it. And given that you can now enjoy such food without causing suffering and death to animals, why would you not? Listen to your heart. Go vegan this Christmas.