Jan. 17, 2007 – A national animal-rights group is calling attention to the forced artificial insemination of turkeys and the health effects of industry standards for breeding and growing the birds.
As consumer demand for turkey meat has grown, turkey breeders have genetically manipulated the birds to grow faster and to be heavier and larger-breasted.
Such anatomical changes have rendered most double-breasted turkeys unable to reproduce on their own, which, coupled with increasing demand for turkey meat, has prompted commercial breeders to turn to artificial insemination as a regular practice.
Calling it "unnatural" and "ethically repugnant," Farm Sanctuary, an organization devoted to protecting farm animals, released a video depicting the artificial-insemination process to accompany a report exploring the process.
In the video, which was reviewed by The NewStandard, workers "milk" male turkeys to collect their semen. The malesâ€™ legs are locked in a clamp while workers manually induce the turkeysâ€™ genitalia to force ejaculation.
The video also shows the forced insemination of female turkeys, which Farm Sanctuary says takes place in "assembly line fashion." The femalesâ€™ legs are also secured in clamps and held upside down while semen is inserted.
Farm Sanctuary said artificial insemination is part of a physically harmful breeding process. The turkeysâ€™ abnormally bred bodies can lead to health complications, and their bodies are too big for their legs so they have difficulty walking.
A 2004 study published in Poultry Science found that the artificial insemination process can create a public-health problem by spreading diseases such as salmonella in turkeys. The study said that the practice of pooling semen, which happens during the artificial insemination process, can leave it at increased risk for contamination by pathogens found in fecal matter. Female turkeys may then be fertilized with the contaminated semen.
"Intensive turkey production and breeding has resulted in disfigured, unhealthy birds and an industry that requires unnatural measures to produce them," said Gene Baur, president of Farm Sanctuary, in a press statement. "The conditions under which these birds are kept and the constant forced â€˜milkingâ€™ and insemination equates to a lifetime of suffering."
But Sherrie Rosenblatt, vice president of communications for the National Turkey Federation, an advocate for the turkey industry, defended the growing and breeding process.
"A number one priority for the turkey industry is to provide the safest, highest-quality products possible," Rosenblatt told TNS in a written statement. "Therefore, it is essential for the industry to ensure the well-being of the turkeys it raises. Whether it is on the farm or in the processing facility, the turkey industry acts responsibly in the raising, breeding, transporting and processing of all turkeys."