GARNER, N.C. -- An animal rights group is urging travelers on U.S. 70 to go vegetarian this Thanksgiving with a billboard in Garner, home to turkey giant Butterball.
Mercy for Animals is a national nonprofit aimed at preventing cruelty to farm animals. The billboard, which went up Monday, urges people to "spare a turkey" and "choose vegetarian."
The group put up the same sign in Chicago and Detroit last Thanksgiving season, said Eddie Garza, a campaign coordinator for Mercy for Animals. But it chose Garner this year because the town is home to the largest turkey producer in the country.
"It just makes sense for us to come here and urge North Carolinians to give turkeys something to be thankful for," Garza said.
Some people choose a vegetarian diet, but many obviously want turkey on Thanksgiving, said Alice Johnson, vice president of food safety and corporate quality for Butterball. The company produces nearly 14 million turkeys during the Thanksgiving season, Johnson said.
"We serve folks who want nutritious and high-quality products," she said. "We offer that choice in the marketplace. Everybody wants a choice."
Besides billboards, Mercy for Animals conducts undercover investigations of farms; this month, McDonalds and Target dropped their ties with a major egg supplier after a video produced by the group showed animal cruelty at facilities in Iowa, Minnesota and Colorado.
Mercy for Animals has not investigated Butterball. But Garza said the group worries about how poultry are treated before they are slaughtered.
"Inherently there are going to be abuses and neglect in factory farms," he said.
Johnson said farms that raise Butterball turkeys follow strict guidelines and that third parties monitor their operations.
"We have a very extensive animal-welfare program," she said. "We need to have healthy birds, and you cannot afford to treat birds inhumanely."
The billboard, near the intersection of U.S. 70 and Jessup Drive, is expected to remain in place through the Thanksgiving holiday, Garza said. The group commonly uses billboards to promote a vegetarian lifestyle.
"The whole point of this is to help Americans understand how food gets to their plate," Garza said.
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