The turkey on your table this Thanksgiving is a far cry from the wild gobbler in the tales of the first Thanksgiving. But let’s face it: The American public loves the turkey of today.
The life story of the turkey in the local grocery is not what some people might imagine. Large factory-farming operations supply the majority of the country with turkey that is tasty, USDA inspected and safe. This controversial type of agriculture is the best farmers can do to meet demand and still offer a price that consumers can swallow.
Although the majority of people think of turkey as a once-a-year meal in November, the statistics say otherwise: The average American ate 17.1 pounds of turkey during 2004, according to the American Turkey Federation at Turkeyfed.org. If the typical turkey at the local grocery store is only between 12 and 16 pounds, then this number has to come from the lunch meat, bacon, burgers and ground meat made from turkey that are consumed during the rest of the year.
According to USDA.gov, the U.S. turkey industry produced more than 264 million turkeys totaling more than 7.3 billion pounds during 2004. The average price to producers was approximately 42 cents per pound. The average cost consumers pay in the store this year is expected to be around 94 cents per pound, as reported in AN article in The Voice of Agriculture magazine.
This all seems to work out well for everybody. The public gets the desired product at the right price, and the producers make a reasonable profit with respect to what the final cost to the consumer is. The facts show that the American agricultural industry keeps up with the demand and produces a good product while maintaining a low cost per pound.
The most common, efficient and effective method of raising turkeys is known as factory farming. This is where the subject of Thanksgiving dinner gets touchy. The average lifespan of 14 to 18 weeks before a turkey winds up at a slaughterhouse is miserable at worst and short at best.
The domesticated turkeys raised in the factory farming industry grow at a much faster rate than wild turkeys, meaning the birds reach slaughter weight several weeks earlier than a wild turkey would. Growth hormones or steroids are not given to turkeys because it is against USDA standards. The increased growth is a result of selective breeding. Farmers breed turkeys so they produce a bird with a maximum weight in the shortest amount of time. Doing this is crucial to meet public demand.
“Fast growth in turkeys has resulted in a high level of disorders such as leg and hip abnormalities,” according to HSUS.org. The result is that the birds have medical conditions or injuries resulting in pain at levels requiring medication and many birds are lost before they can be slaughtered.
The popular idea that all factory-farmed animals are given antibiotics is not true. Antibiotics are only given to factory-farmed turkeys that need them. USDA standards mandate specific amounts of time that must pass between administration of antibiotics and the time at which a bird is slaughtered.
The majority of turkeys that make it to the local grocery store have never been out roaming the barnyard, as some might imagine. According to Adoptaturkey.org, the typical factory-farmed turkey lives life in a barn about 50 feet wide and 500 feet long with at least 7,000 other birds. This translates into approximately 3.5 square feet per bird. Close quarters crowd the birds and often lead to fighting between the toms (males). These confines also protect the birds from predators that would likely cause greater loses than fighting among the birds does.
For distribution, the brown, wild turkey with large plumage has been bred into an all-white domesticated turkey with much less feathers. This is because it is more attractive to consumers for the dark pigment of the wild birds to be a nice pinkish shade similar to that of chickens.The bottom line with factory-farming turkeys is that we need them to appease the American public’s desire for turkey not only because it is delicious, but also because it is affordable. It is unfortunate that these animals don’t live lives equivalent to their wild counterparts, but it is necessary to meet demand at a rate at which consumers are willing to pay. Farmers protect their turkeys to the best of their abilities and have nothing but the birds’ best interests at heart. A turkey that is dead, weak, sick or injured is worth nothing to the farmer.
Be thankful this year on turkey day that the United States is home to an industry that provides consumers with quality, USDA-inspected and -approved meats. Factory farms are a necessary evil of sorts that provides a price Americans are accustomed to, while being as compassionate as possible to the animals within the confines of the factory farm.