A Happy Christmas? Not if You're a Turkey...

14/12/2011 23:52 GMT | Updated 13/02/2012 10:12 GMT

Christmas is traditionally a time of peace and goodwill to all 'men', but sadly other animals fair less well during the festive season.

Luckily, ethical options are becoming much more popular at Christmas time and that's good on all fronts, from animal welfare and healthy eating to climate change.

So as the countdown to the festivities begins, we should all take a moment to think about the millions of animals who will suffer and die for our celebrations and how each of us can make simple changes to ensure a Christmas without cruelty.

Christmas Dinner

Turkeys provide the centrepiece for the traditional dinner, but if we knew the suffering these birds endure, might we find our meal a little harder to swallow? Around a third of the turkeys reared for their meat in the UK are slaughtered for this seasonal market. In 2009, the then- largest UK turkey producer, Bernard Matthews, was slaughtering up to 50,000 per day in the pre-Christmas period.

Most of these birds are reared in intensive conditions in windowless sheds with up to 25,000 turkeys crammed inside. According to the Farm Animal Welfare Council, as the birds approach slaughter weight stocking densities often far exceed the maximum recommended levels in the Government's Turkey Welfare Code.

Feather loss, feet deformities and other injuries are common. This can be factory-style mass production at its worst, and the mistreatment and suffering endured by these creatures has been frequently exposed by animal welfare groups.

But you don't have to serve up cruelty on your table. Having a meat-free celebration is easy and delicious. There are plenty of veggie turkey roasts available on the high-street such as Redwoods Cheatin' Turkey or Tofurky, and why not try a scrumptious home-cooked vegetarian feast, such as roasted butternut squash or other meat-free treats. Veggie sausages and bacon are also available in virtually every supermarket, so why not replace pork products at the same time?

Humane Society International/UK promotes a policy of 'eating with conscience' by embracing the 'Three Rs' - Reducing the consumption of animal-based foods, Refining our diets by consuming animal products from suppliers who adhere to standards that reduce animal abuse, and Replacing meat and animal products with plant-based foods.

Give the Gift of Compassion

The giving and receiving of gifts is for many an essential highlight of festive celebrations, and Britons are predicted to spend a total of around £21 billion on presents in 2011; that's over £400 per person. But how we spend it can have a profound impact on the lives of animals around the globe?

Choosing ethical presents is easy if you ask yourself one simple question before buying - has an animal suffered to make this product? If the answer is yes, leave cruelty on the shelf.

Perfume, aftershave and make-up are always popular gifts, but did you realise that many thousands of rabbits, hamsters and other animals are still used to test these products?

Such testing is banned across the European Union but not so in the United States or Canada. In countries like China, animal-testing of cosmetic products is still obligatory.

Testing cosmetics on animals is totally unethical and unnecessary and HSI is campaigning to ban the sale in Europe of these newly animal-tested products. But you can shop cruelty-free with confidence using the Leaping Bunny Compassionate Shopping Guide. With gorgeous ethical lipsticks, perfumes and lotions to choose from, who needs animal testing?

Sadly, during the winter season we often see the return of real animal fur to the catwalk and celebrities are often photographed wearing animal skins.

Don't be misled into thinking that fur is a cool or glamorous present. The beautiful fur-bearing animals who lose their lives by the tens of millions for the fashion industry, suffer unimaginable cruelty and mistreatment, as footage from fur farms in China has graphically shown.

All animals, whether intensively reared on factory fur farms, or trapped in agony in the wild, will have suffered to produce the fur used for coats, or trims on gilets, gloves, collars, boots and scarves. Far from keeping us warm, their suffering should give us all a cold chill.

And you can't trust the labels - although a new European Directive introduced this year will require manufacturers to label products containing fur of animal origin, the industry has a further 2 years to introduce the changes.

The only way to go is faux - support retailers who have taken the fur-free pledge, use these techniques to double check the trim, and if you're in any doubt whether an item is real or fake, just don't buy it.

Our animal companions

We all know the famous slogan - A Dog Is For Life, Not Just For Christmas - but buying dogs, kittens and other animals as gifts is still a huge welfare problem.

It may seem like a good idea to surprise someone with a cute furry friend, but the reality is that animals purchased on a whim or given to someone unexpectedly stand a very high chance indeed of being abandoned after Christmas.

In the UK, the numbers of dogs collected from the streets by wardens reached an all-time high of more than 125,000 in the year to September 2011, and with less people adopting animals from rescue homes because of the financial recession, more and more animals are sadly being destroyed.

Sharing our home with an animal companion can be hugely satisfying and rewarding, especially if we choose an animal from a rescue shelter. Choosing the right species, breed or size of animal requires careful research and consideration by the person who will ultimately be responsible for the animal's everyday welfare. If you or your family still want a pet after the festivities are over, visit your local rescue shelter and give a homeless animal a home.

We should of course think about the impact our life choices have on animals every day of the year, but in the lead-up to the festive holiday period, we have an opportunity to reflect on how much more compassionate we could all be by making a few simple changes to the things we put in our shopping baskets.

When it comes to having a compassionate Christmas, Humane Society International/UK has it all wrapped up with our Cruelty-Free Christmas Pledge with simple steps anyone can follow to make the festive period a happier one for all of us.

So have a Happy Christmas, and please spread some peace and goodwill to the animals with whom we share our planet.