Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Eat turkey if you like

It is almost Thanksgiving. That means it is time for a yearly rite. No, not buying cranberry sauce. The tradition I refer to is one begun by the animal rights movement. Each year about this time, animal rights organizations publish claims that eating turkey is injurious in one way or another. Their objective is, of course, to persuade the public that they should decide what other people can eat. Turkeys would be excluded from the list they would email us, I gather. Maybe we would be allowed lobster on our birthdays, though. This material is typical of the trend.

Press release from D.E.L.T.A. Rescue:

You're Eating Cats and Dogs for Thanksgiving!

GLENDALE, Calif., Nov. 22, 2004 -- As millions of Americans feast this Thanksgiving, they have no idea what their turkey ate before ending up in the supermarket.

It is unimaginable to consider that our holiday main course may have been fed the bodies of dead pets, but according to actor and animal welfare activist Leo Grillo, rendered animals end up in the feed lots of the nation's livestock and poultry industry.

Rendering is the gruesome practice of "cooking" the bodies of euthanized pets from animal shelters, veterinary offices, horses, other livestock, and "road kill" to produce animal protein meal and "yellow grease". These products are then either sent to Asia (where they are used as feed for farm salmon, eel or shrimp returning to the US for human consumption) or used as a dietary supplement in the poultry and livestock facilities across the country.

And the chemicals used to euthanize the animals, the drugs used to treat the animals if they were sick, may ultimately find their way back into the human food chain too.

"Don't forget the diseases those poor animals died from, the cancers ... the bacteria and toxins in their decomposing bodies ... and we wonder why we have so much cancer," said Grillo. "What we as consumers don't understand is that the food we eat, from hamburgers, to fish and shrimp, to milk and cheese; contain the bodies of our dead pets and the chemicals, drugs and
diseases that they took with them."

This is not one of those mocking attacks on the animal rights movement that the writer ends by urging readers to go out for a nice, thick, juicy medium--rare steak. I don't eat beef. Or pork. Or chicken. Or turkey. (I really liked turkey. Still miss it after all these years.) I've been a semi-vegetarian since college. Furthermore, I do not detest the animal rights movement. I believe it does some good by publicizing abuses of animals -- such as not enough space in pens -- that lead to reforms. But, unfortunately, the animal rights movement undermines the good it does by lying and its occasional violence.

I wish people would not publish material like this press release, mainly because the allegations are not true. Fowl are fed grains. Sometimes drugs to encourage fast growth or prevent disease are added to their feed. It is illegal to include tainted stockyard debris, though that occurred in the past. Renderers mainly process large animals, such as cows and horses. Since the last Mad Cow Disease outbreak, including the bodies of dead animals in feed is under scrutiny. New rules, not yet finalized, will prohibit it. The claim that Thanksgiving turkey eaters will be dining on cats and dogs is false and fatuous. D.E.L.T.A Rescue apparently thinks people are both ignorant and vapid. Stupid enough to believe lies about what turkeys are fed. Vacuous enough to shove away that drumstick at the thought that it is somehow Fido or Puffball.

Furthermore, activists such as these ignore two important aspects of the decision-making about diet:

~ People are naturally omnivorous. That is not going to change, though a minority will choose to be vegetarian.

~ People have much of their autonomy stripped from them in modern society. They should be free to make their own decisions about what to eat, within reason.

Lou Grillo would serve the public better by publishing intelligent, well-written, and, true material about how Americans can make the lives of both food animals and pets easier.

What does a vegetarian do for the holidays? Make do. Tomorrow, I will eat vegetables, bread and dessert while ignoring the enticing aroma of the turkey and dressing. Fortunately, I like cranberry sauce. It will be my consolation prize. This evening, Trader Joe's gave away free packages of bell peppers. (They would have perished while the store was closed.) I will have to find a recipe for stuffing peppers that does not use hamburger.

The more responsible people in the animal rights movement mean well. But some seem to get involved because of the opportunity to lord it over others. A participant I discuss the topic with from time to time says he is becoming annoyed with some of the tactics being used himself. He will not be participating in a monthly protest in front of a doctor's office, anymore. Her offense? She conducted a medical study in which she used three house cats.

So, I am shirking my supposed duty as a vegetarian. I will not harangue all those meat eaters out there. What you eat is your business. Neither I nor anyone else should try to mislead you with disinformation about foods. Enjoy your Thanksgiving meal -- turkey and all.

Reasonably related

•After pressure from consumers and health care officials, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration produced less meat industry-friendly rules for what animals can be fed in July. I blogged the controversy here.

•You can help make the food supply safer by urging the Bush administration to act on those delayed federal rules. Write your Congressperson.

Note: This entry also appeared at Mac-a-ro-nies.

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