The Sad Fate Of The Pardoned Turkey


Only one turkey pardoned by the president has lived to see a second Thanksgiving:

So, what’s wrong with our political turkey class? A 2010 report for the Human Society detailed the burdens Turkey eugenics have wrought on the birds. Simply put, they are not bred for living, but for eating. “Farming interests have transformed Ben Franklin’s tree-perching ‘Bird of Courage’ into a flightless gargantua bred to grow so fast that today’s commercially raised turkeys [are on the verge of structural collapse],” [said] the report’s section on turkey obesity. The added weight causes degenerative hip failure and other joint deformities.

In fact, they are so fat, that without human intervention, the domesticated turkey would go extinct. That’s because “Turkeys have been bred for such heavy body weight that they are physically incapable of mating, necessitating artificial insemination via tube or syringe.” And like overweight humans, these obese turkeys suffer and die from heart disease. “Sudden death associated with acute heart failure and perirenal hemorrhage bleeding around the kidneys is a significant cause of mortality for rapidly growing turkey toms,” the report states.

Nikki Schwab passes along a grim update:

Cobbler, 2012’s official pardoned turkey, lived through the summer and was euthanized on Aug. 22. (The turkeys always come to Washington in pairs, and while one attends the pardoning ceremony, both get to live.) Liberty, a turkey from 2011, had the longest lifespan of the crop, living to the ripe old age of 2, before being euthanized on April 26, due to heart failure.

Alexis Madrigal zooms out:

Turkey Weight

[I]n 2013, the average weight for American produced turkey crossed 30 pounds for the first time. At least based on the January to October numbers for this year, we’re talking about an average weight of 30.47 pounds. That’s a remarkable increase in average size. Go back a little further, like I did in 2008, and you see that we didn’t hit 15 pounds until the 1930s. In 1960, the average weight of a turkey was just 16.83 pounds. Even in 1985, it was only 20 pounds, and we didn’t hit 25 pounds until 1999. And we owe it all to artificial insemination. …

In 2007, poultry scientists conducted a remarkable study. They took a line of turkeys housed at Ohio State that had not been selectively bred over the last 40 years. That is to say, the turkeys had the genetics of commercial turkeys from 1966. Then they fed the old-genetics turkeys and modern breeds the same diet, one often used in 1966. The old-line turkeys reached 21 pounds. The modern turkeys grew to an average of 39 pounds, and did it quickly. A faster growing bird that converts feed more efficiently into breast meat helps drive down costs for farmers. Their DNA, transformed over decades, is doing the work.

(Photo: US President Barack Obama pardons the 2013 National Thanksgiving Turkey ‘Popcorn’ with Chairman of the National Turkey Federation John Burkel (2nd L) during an event at the White House on November 27, 2013. By Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)