The new video of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin making the rounds over the last few days is disturbing, but it might just give people throughout America food for thought. After "pardoning" a turkey at the Triple D Farm & Hatchery outside Wasilla, Palin gleefully holds a news conference while live turkeys in the background are fed into an inverted cone for beheading and bleeding, shuddering while their necks are snapped. As AOL News blogger Tommy Christopher said, it's the kind of video that might make someone switch to meat alternatives like Tofurky.
It's no secret that animals are killed for food. What we are troubled by is Palin's jovial tone as these creatures are being slaughtered -- what she calls "a little bit of levity." Whether you think it's appropriate or not to slaughter animals for food, never should it be treated as a joke, nor anything less than a serious moral matter.
Marc Lester of the Anchorage Daily News has video of the pre-slaughter "pardoning," which hasn't been as widely distributed. When reading her Thanksgiving pardon proclamation, Palin says she is a "friend to all creatures great and small" -- but elbows the farmer next to her in the ribs as if to emphasize the big joke. As Time magazine's Ana Marie Cox said on MSNBC"s "Countdown" with Keith Olbermann, "She does have this very special relationship with animals... it involves blood usually."
That is indeed Palin's very utilitarian relationship with all creatures great and small -- whether it's authorizing the shooting of wolves from helicopters, denying protections for threatened polar bears and endangered beluga whales, or treating the slaughter of turkeys as if it's a trivial moral question. Of all the 50 state governors across the country, Palin arguably has the most retrograde policies on animal welfare and conservation -- and the Humane Society Legislative Fund is thankful this holiday season that she was not elected to the vice presidency.
If there's any silver lining to the latest Palin interaction with animals, it just might cause people to think about the plight of turkeys. In today's factory farms, turkeys are overcrowded in automated, barren poultry houses, without the ability to engage in natural behaviors. They are bred to grow at an unnaturally rapid pace to unprecedented weights, causing skeletal, muscular, and leg disorders. The U.S. Department of Agriculture currently applies the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act only to mammals, and refuses to extend these basic federal protections to the nearly ten billion turkeys, chickens, and other poultry raised for food each year.
The gory scenes in Palin's video are actually much less severe than we'd see at a major turkey factory farm. This Thanksgiving week, The Humane Society of the United States is reminding people about the Three R's of holiday eating: Refine the methods of industrial farm animal production to minimize pain and distress to animals; reduce the amount of meat, egg, and dairy products for a more sustainable diet; and replace animal products with vegetarian options when possible. Only through a combination of public policy reform, corporate innovation, and consumer demand will we reduce the suffering of farm animals.