Talking turkey: a pardoning, a probe and a pitch for adoption

In keeping with presidential Thanksgiving tradition, President Obama yesterday granted an official pardon to two turkeys, Apple and Cider. At a quip-filled ceremony with his daughters by his side, Obama said he hoped the spare someone from a "shellacking this November" - a reference to the steep losses Democratic ranks on Election Day.

Obama said the audition to be chosen as the White House turkey and his backup was no unlike "Dancing with the Stars," only the winner gets a bigger prize: life.

With that, Obama said:

"And now, it is my great honor, as well, to give Apple and Cider a new lease on life. So as President of the United States, you are hereby pardoned from the Thanksgiving dinner table. (Laughter.) May you have a wonderful and joyful life at Mount Vernon."

These two lucky birds from California will reside at George Washington's home in Alexandria, Va. where they will be on display with other farm animals.

In the event you'd like to save a turkey's life this holiday season, check out Farm Sanctuary's Adopt-a-Turkey program. Since 1986 the Watkins Glen, NY-based sanctuary - which also houses many other rescued farm animals - has saved more than 1,000 turkeys and placed hundreds in loving homes.

In other turkey welfare news this Thanksgiving Day, the Humane Society of the United States, in its latest investigation of factory farming, exposed atrocious conditions in the nation's largest turkey hatchery.

Among the findings during an 11-day undercover operation last month at the Willmar Poultry Company in Willmar, Minn.: 

Grinding animals alive. Sick, deformed, and injured birds—as well as healthy animals who are “leftovers” not needed for buyers’ orders—are killed by being thrown into grinding machines.

· Mutilations without pain relief. Workers amputate parts of turkeys’ toes and snoods without any painkillers and jam their heads into a machine that sears parts of their beaks off with lasers—also without painkillers.

· Abandoned birds left to suffer. Sick and injured poults are tossed into plastic bins or left abandoned and suffering on the floor through the day until they’re thrown down a chute into the jaws of a grinding machine.

· Sick and injured animals. Birds suffer from broken necks, missing eyes, and bleeding wings and legs. Injured and deformed poults are tossed into boxes and left to suffer.

The full report can be read here.

"Our latest investigation exposes a callous disregard for animal welfare in the turkey industry, including practices such as grinding alive sick, injured and even healthy but unwanted turkeys," said Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society of the United States president and CEO. "It's unacceptable for workers to leave injured and nonambulatory animals to suffer on the floor for hours on end, only to then send them to their deaths in a grinder."

Willmar Poultry Company President Richard VanderSpek defended the company's animal welfare practices and said in a statement that the video depicted "the actions of some employees that violate the company's animal welfare policies."

"We condemn any mistreatment of the animals in our care and will take swift action to investigate and address these issues. Willmar Poultry will also review its policies, procedures, employee training and site monitoring to help ensure that our employees understand and follow company animal welfare policies and procedures," VanderSpek said.

The hatchery produces more than 30 million poults, or young turkeys, each year and delivers more than 600,000 a week to customers nationwide. It is believed to produce 50 percent of all frozen turkeys sold in supermarkets.


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