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Christians Argue Buying Factory-Farm Turkeys Goes Against God's Will

Is buying "cheap" turkey against Christian ethics?

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By Ray Downs, Christian Post Reporter
November 14, 2011|3:45 pm

This Thanksgiving, millions of Christian families will thank the Lord for their friends, family and food before enjoying a home-cooked turkey. However, if the turkey is one of the approximately 40 million factory-raised turkeys that will be consumed on Thanksgiving this year, some Christians believe that purchasing that turkey equals making a contribution to a multi-billion dollar industry of slaughter, shame and sin.

The life of the average factory-farm turkey is brutal and short in order to maximize profits, according to various reports on the inner-workings of factories operated by Butterball and other leading poultry producers. Hatched in large incubators, turkeys are moved directly from eggs to sheds where they are crammed into a confined space with thousands of other turkeys. In order to prevent the turkeys from pecking at each other, their beaks are seared off with a hot blade that cuts through the cartilage and nerves.

Once debeaked, turkeys are pumped full of hormones in order to get them as big as possible in the shortest amount of time. According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), in 1970, the average weight of a turkey raised for meat was 17 pounds. Today, with the help of hormones and genetic engineering, the average turkey weight is 28 pounds. The heavy weight sometimes causes turkeys' legs to break from the pressure, as well as heart and organ failure, causing many to die. In addition, turkeys are simply too fat to procreate, so factory farm turkeys are impregnated through artificial insemination.

There have also been several instances of abuse and torture on turkeys caused by employees, including throwing the birds against the walls, stomping on their necks, and even forcefully pulling eggs from their insides. There are several disturbing videos on YouTube taken by undercover animal rights activists who have worked at factory farms to record the abuse.

Turkeys that survive the fattening process are then crammed into cages and transported to the slaughterhouse. The rough transport often causes bones to break. At the slaughterhouse, turkeys then get their throats cut before being dragged through scalding hot water to loosen their feathers and prepare them for packaging. However, the blade that cuts their throat often misses, and the turkey is dragged through the scalding hot water alive, eventually dying, after a 4 months of life in a factory farm.

The methods of turkey production have changed dramatically since in the past 50 years, when American agriculture was dominated by small-scale farms. However, small farms gave way to more efficient factory farms that utilize mechanics and chemicals over husbandry and soil. The change has given way to cheaper meat and lots more of it. Food in America is plentiful and affordable, so is the way some of these factory farms operate immoral? Some Christians strongly believe it is, and they argue that participating and contributing to large-scale factory farms is not in accordance with Christianity because of the suffering the turkeys experience.

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Matthew Scully, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, is also an animal rights advocate who says that the the factory-farm system is morally corrupt due to its warped view that animals are simply "production units."

"The people who run our industrial livestock farms, for example, have lost all regard for animals as such, as beings with needs, natures, and a humble dignity of their own," Scully said in an interview with the National Review. "They treat these creatures like machines and 'production units' of man's own making, instead of as living creatures made by God. And you will find a similar arrogance in every other kind of cruelty as well."

Dan Paden, a senior research associate at PETA, as well as a Catholic, is a vegan who says that the Bible provides evidence that people should avoid eating animals.

"Biblically, there is a strong case for vegetarianism," Paden told The Christian Post. "In Eden, in Genesis the world was vegetarian. Eating animals became the norm after original sin, and not part of God's intended world."

There is also the issue of torture. Many Christians do not see eating meat as immoral, but many would agree that causing suffering among animals is. For Paden, that is why Christians who wish to eat meat should avoid factory farms, such as Butterball and Smithfield Foods, which produces meat for McDonald's.

"God created these animals and He put in all of them natural drives; birds need to spread wings, pigs root the earth, and mothers raise their young," Paden said. "Factory farms like Smithfield Foods are founded upon denying God's creations everything they are meant to enjoy."

Norman Wirzba, a Professor of Theology, Ecology, and Rural Life at Duke Divinity School, also believes animals should live the way God designed them to live.

"Cattle are meant to eat grass, to live in pasture," Wirzba said in a PBS documentary about ethical eating. "Chickens are meant to roam and be outside, and when you think about how industrial eating practices that stifle that inner drive, that natural drive, that these animals have. It's a violation of their ability to be what they are."

Although some consumers might prefer to eat only animals that are humanely raised, in tough economic times, knowing how the food gets to one's plate might not be of the utmost concern – as many are just grateful to have something to eat. However, evangelical Christian pastor Greg Boyd of Woodland Hills Church in Minneapolis insists that factory-farm meat goes against Christian principles.

"There's no question that this calloused treatment of animals on factory farms is an efficient way of processing meat that helps keep its price down," Boyd, a vegetarian, wrote on his blog. "But there's also no question that this represents the antithesis of the loving and compassionate dominion God intended humans to exercise over animals. We're called to reflect God's loving and compassionate character in the way we treat animals. There's nothing – nothing – loving and compassionate about the way animals are treated on factory farms. Their lives on these farms are a living hell."

He added: "As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am called to manifest the reign of God in every area of my life. Since torturing animals is not consistent with the reign of God, I feel I cannot help fund an institution that does this."

Boyd recommends watching a documentary called Farm to Fridge, which shows how meat is produced in factory farms (the video may be considered graphic by some viewers).

Wirzba also said that consumers should be more ethically conscious of what turkeys eat because food creates ripple effects. "I think we need to make food a priority because food touches so much," he said. "It touches personal health, it touches education, the social development of people, as well as touching economical issues and ecological issues, so food needs to be a priority."

Nonetheless, 90 percent of poultry in the U.S. is produced in factory farms, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). To say such farms dominate the industry is an understatement. With poultry not included in the Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act, there are no laws to regulate how turkeys are treated or killed. Technically, factories are given free reign to kill turkeys however they choose.

However, there is a growing market for humanely-raised poultry from local farms that provide animals with fresh air, room to roam and a vegetable diet free of chemicals and hormones. These famrs can be found at LocalHarvest.org and HeritageFoodsUSA.com.

Paden believes that by buying from more humane turkey-producing farms this Thanksgiving, Christians can eventually have an effect on how turkeys are produced in factory farms.

"These companies listen to consumers and a Christian consumer wields immense power," Paden told CP. "If you tell them that they mock God when they mock God's creatures, the companies will change and animals will be killed with a modicum of mercy."

 

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