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Should We Tune In to the Sound of Turkeys Being Slaughtered?

Controversy has erupted in the UK over whether a radio station should auction off the lives of—and slaughter on air—a pair of adorable turkeys named Sage and Onion.

by Hilary Pollack
Dec 11 2014, 7:30pm

Photo via Flickr user Merv Stapleton

Ah, the holiday season. It's the time of the year when we're thoroughly stalked by all sorts of carols and traditional songs about snowmen and sleighs and bearded home intruders who know your sleep schedule (but also bring you Xboxes). Walk into almost any supermarket or department store or flip on the radio, and you're likely to be hit with familiar wafts of Bing Crosby and Wham!. Or, if you're in the vicinity of Oxfordshire, England, you might hear the guttural squabbling of a turkey being slaughtered on air.

That's because right now, JACKfm—an Oxfordshire-based radio station—is running a campaign that allows listeners to determine whether they will allow two free-range turkeys to continue living, breathing, pecking, and scratching, or whether they will slit their throats, drain their blood, butcher them, and consume their baked carcasses. To add insult to poultry injury, the turkeys have been given truly adorable names guaranteed to incite attachment from those prone to the influence of quaintness: Sage and Onion.

Viewers can vote on the station's website whether to "cook it" or "keep it," as station presenters Caroline Verdon and Trevor Marshall are at a standstill of ambivalence. (Caroline wishes to spare Sage and Onion, while Trevor craves blood.) To clarify, "cook it" actually means "slaughter it live on the air, cook it, and then serve it to guests at the station's Christmas party." To "keep it" ... well, it's unclear how long, or where, the turkeys would be kept.

As of now, 62 percent of people have voted in favor of saving the turkeys.

The birds are the last two "Christmas birds" remaining at Callow Farm, a local free-range farm that specializes in high-quality meat. But despite resounding traditional sentiments that roasting an entire animal is a fabulous signifier of the holiday spirit, not everyone is enthralled with this idea.

While most families will likely eat meat at their Christmas dinner, perhaps something doesn't sit terribly well about knowing the birds' names and auctioning off their lives to an internet poll like some sort of avian Hunger Games, leaving their fate in the hands of a bunch of radio listeners. It's less emotionally troubling to imagine that they would be slaughtered either way, and that those who dine on them are only taking advantage of the inevitable.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals (RSPCA) is especially annoyed by the campaign. A spokeswoman tells The Telegraph that while the organization "appreciates [that] this is intended as a light-hearted festive feature, the RSPCA opposes practices that have the potential to cause animals pain, suffering, or death in the name of entertainment." The group also expresses concern that the slaughter might not be performed using permitted methods and by a properly trained person familiar with the legally mandated stunning and killing methods.

Another vocal figure who has jumped in the Sage and Onion mix is Queen guitarist Dr. Brian May (he has a PhD in astrophysics), a longtime animal rights advocate. May tweeted yesterday, "Anybody else disgusted by this? […] Screw them. Cruelty free Christmas in my house."

In defense of the station's idea, Marshall says, "The majority of people in the UK eat meat. If they have a problem with this, then they're hypocrites and should be opting for the nut roast. There is nothing better than one of these free-range birds who have literally spent their lives running through orchards."

Sage and Onion provided no comment.