WASHINGTON, Nov. 23, 2016 - According to a survey from the National Turkey Federation, about 88 percent of Americans eat turkey at Thanksgiving. Which raises the question: What do the other 12 percent eat?

Turkey has been a traditional staple of Thanksgiving meals since the time of the Pilgrims, making the holiday a critical time for the nation’s turkey producers. NTF estimates that about 736 million pounds of turkey were consumed during 2015 Thanksgiving celebrations, and NTF spokesman Keith Williams tells Agri-Pulse they expect a similar amount of turkey to be eaten during this, the “signature event” for the group’s members.

“This is an important time of the year,” said Williams, who says about 46 million turkeys will be the centerpiece of Thanksgiving dinner tables this year.

Williams said the industry has recovered from the 2015 outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). “The flocks have been replenished,” he said. “Even last year when we had a 3 percent loss nationally, it did not affect the frozen turkey market at Thanksgiving.”

As turkeys across the country are thawing out in preparation for the feast, NTF will head to the White House this afternoon for its annual presentation of the National Thanksgiving Turkey. It will be the final presentation to President Barack Obama, but the 69th time NTF has offered a turkey to the sitting president.

Williams said the festivities originally had a more reflective meaning: The president would take a few minutes and use the turkey as a symbol of a completed harvest being brought to America’s cities from the rural production areas. That led to thoughts about the various blessings that Americans had and what citizens should be thankful for that particular year. Through 12 administrations, that aspect of the celebration has remained.

However, the festivities took a lighter turn under the George H.W. Bush presidency. In 1989, Bush quipped in an off-the-cuff remark that the bird deserved a “reprieve” and that he would “pardon” the animal. Since then, presidents have spared the National Thanksgiving Turkey, which lives out the rest of its days in Virginia. The event also gives NTF rare exposure and time with the president on an annual basis. While a social media vote now determines the National Thanksgiving Turkey between two finalists, Obama has developed the habit of pardoning both the winner and the runner-up, originally at the behest of his daughters. 

This year’s birds – Tater and Tot – come from a farm near Early, Iowa - a small town in a county where more than 297,000 commercial turkeys were depopulated during the 2015 HPAI outbreak. 


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