You may have seen them while you were driving the interstates of America. Peering out from the back or the side of a long tractor trailer, in cages stacked row upon row. Maybe you even made eye contact with a few as you drove along in your car with the heat or air conditioner keeping you cool or warm. You are safe inside your car, safe from the elements and you know exactly where you are going. They, do not. They have no protection or relief from the rain, snow, sleet, heat, or freezing cold. They do not know where they are going or what is to become of them. Who are “they”? They are the thousands of farm animals that endure long distance transport to slaughter in trucks. While the suffering of farm animals on factory farms is gaining more and more public attention, the suffering of animals during transport goes largely unnoticed, unregulated and under cover.
Each year, over 58 billion farm animals are slaughtered and in the United States alone, over 10 billion. If they survive the factory farm; they then face further torment and abusive handling during transport. From the confines of the factory farm, they are loaded onto tractor trailers to make their final journey to the slaughterhouse.
During the transport process, many animals are dragged, shoved or thrown onto the trucks by desensitized workers. Once they are on the truck, they are not provided with basic needs, such as food, water, rest, and protection from the elements. The trucks are overcrowded, not ventilated and animals are exposed to extreme heat and cold. If they are not already sick or injured before their journey, thousands of farm animals become so sick and injured during transport, they cannot walk. These animals are either dragged to slaughter or thrown in dead piles and left to die in stockyards.
So here are some fun facts as “food for thought” on transporting livestock. In the United States, there are no federal regulations of farmed animals in transport. A bit of history on the only law pertaining to transporting animals goes way back to 1873. That’s right, over 100 years ago, which is when the mode of transportation to move livestock was the rail car. Therefore, the U.S. government passed the 28 hour law. The Twenty-eight hour law states that animals cannot be transported for more than 28 hours without being unloaded for five hours for food, water and rest via “rail car, express carrier or common carrier.” Of course, trucks soon trumped rail cars by the 1950’s as the top mode of transportation.
Until 2006, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), the government agency in charge of enforcing the law, defended the law as it stood excluding interstate transport by truck. Thankfully, a petition led by several animal advocacy groups was submitted to the USDA in October 2005 to challenge the outdated version of the law. The USDA agreed that it would start protecting livestock being transported by truck. Unfortunately, as it is with factory farms, the law is loosely if ever followed, let alone enforced or regulated. Truckers doctor their log books and push on many hours and even days past the 28 hours without unloading their animals. In addition to the already treacherous journey, there are the crashes on highways all across the country that are mishandled.
So let’s talk turkey. Over 300 million turkeys are killed each year for food, over 45 million are killed for Thanksgiving alone, while 22 million are killed for Christmas. Like all poultry, turkey’s have no federal protection. What occurred recently on June 14, 2012 in Ridgeway, VA, is just one story, one example of what a certain group of turkeys endured during transport on their way to slaughter.
One June 14th, reckless driving by the trucker transporting 600 turkeys to slaughter was the cause of an accident in Henry County, VA. Transporting the turkeys from North Carolina to Harrisburg, the driver flipped his trailer on Route 220 sending the 600 turkey’s he was transporting onto the roadway. The driver survived and was charged with reckless driving but the turkeys suffered a much worse fate.
The turkey’s were left lingering for 6 agonizing hours in the stifling heat before the company who owned the turkey’s, Circle S Ranch Inc, and its workers arrived. Reports from local TV Station ABC Channel 13, state that the accident was not reported to anyone right away, therefore, the local Martinsville-Henry SPCA rushed to the scene in a futile attempt to do whatever they could to assist the turkeys. SPCA workers offered water for the birds but Circle S workers rejected their offers. A veterinary technician reported the turkeys were left without protection from the heat in their mangled cages toppled on top of each other panting rapidly from the heat. One after the other, the turkeys perished as the hours passed while onlookers watched the disturbing scene unfold and the scene was indeed disturbing.
Circle S. workers reportedly jumped onto live birds, hastily pulled birds from their cages, dropped others 10 feet off the ground, threw birds onto the side of the truck and hit birds heads against coops causing them to fall 4 feet to the ground. Turkeys enduring severe injuries such as severed legs and internal organs sticking out of their bodies were tossed onto a truck for a 3 hour trip to slaughter. Once the Circle S owners arrived, they did not handle the turkeys any better, throwing a turkey into a truck and when it fell out, another continued to pick it up and throw it in again. Of the 600 birds on the transport truck, 540 turkeys perished. The surviving turkeys continued back on the road to be slaughtered. This is not an isolated incident of how accidents and the treatment of the animals considered cargo are handled during transport and it is not the first time Circle S has had similar incidents occur.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) reports that Circle S has had crashes while hauling turkeys in March 2011, July 2010 and September 2009. PETA fired off a request to Henry County Commonwealth’s Attorney Bob Bushnell to launch a criminal investigation of Circle S and its workers. In response, Bushnell has asked the Virginia State Police to investigate. PETA has been successful in the past with pressuring companies to devise and implement an accident response plan that is humane and affective. In 2006, Smithfield Foods, the leading company in pork production, finally developed an accident response plan when PETA documented the same type of slow and unnecessarily cruel responses after repeated crashes of trucks hauling pigs in Virginia.
In similar fashion, PETA began a petition to Circle S and its president, Samuel Starnes, politely urging him to create and put into place a plan that ensures any turkeys involved in a crash are immediately rescued, handled humanely and made as comfortable as possible. In addition, the petition requests that turkeys suffering severe injuries be humanely euthanized at the scene of the accident.
So the next time you happen to be traveling the highways of America and you end up beside or behind a tractor trailer hauling your next meal, think about the 540 turkeys that suffered for 6 hours on the blacktop of Route 220. Then think about the remaining injured birds that were still hauled off to slaughter to become tomorrow’s turkey sandwich, and maybe, just maybe, send them a little blessing as you drive by in your comfy, cozy car.
Image Source SPCA