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President Donald Trump pardons Drumstick at the National Thanksgiving Turkey pardoning ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House on Tuesday. This is the 70th anniversary of the National Thanksgiving Turkey presentation. Jabin Botsford / Washington Post

Instead of pardoning a turkey, let's eat it

Amid the political barrage, let's talk turkey. No, not political turkey; I'm weary of all the negative ads and bashing. I mean white meat and dark meat — the turkey you're going to eat in a few weeks on Thanksgiving.

In the coming days, the news will feature stories about the president of the United States "pardoning" a turkey or two. In my state of North Dakota, the governor and agriculture commissioner also participate in such an occasion. I once attended a turkey pardoning. Two live turkeys are brought to the governor's office and told they're being pardoned, with the chosen turkey farmer closely watching. It's a chaotic ordeal to keep live turkeys on a conference room table, hoping they don't do their business. The only good thing to come out of the silliness is a couple dozen frozen turkeys are donated to a local shelter.

Pardoning a turkey is a ridiculous tradition and, quite frankly, needs to stop. Or is it like Groundhog Day? We don't really believe the pomp and circumstance but it's a tradition so we go with it anyway.

Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford pardons two 19-week-old male turkeys during the annual ceremony in 2017 at the state Capitol in Bismarck.Do we really believe our leaders pardoning a turkey will allow the bird to live happily ever after on a petting farm? Those in agriculture understand the turkey is still going to be slaughtered. It's a public relations move to build awareness for turkey farmers, whom I wholeheartedly support.

But never before have our non-ag consumers been more removed from the realities of agriculture, especially animal agriculture. The unrealistic utopia needs to halt this next month.

Instead of pardoning a turkey, let's sit down and enjoy a turkey meal with the president or the governor. Let's talk modern animal agriculture, feed formulations, affordable protein availability, biosecurity, safe animal handling, healthy food choices and exports.

There are nine turkey farms in North Dakota with a total of 1 million birds. To the east, Minnesota has 450 turkey farms and raises 44 million turkeys a year, making them the leader in U.S. turkey production.

Turkeys are bred to quickly gain weight and be slaughtered, butchered, processed or harvested, whatever politically correct term you prefer to use. A turkey is a food animal meant to be eaten.

Will pardoning a turkey save its life? Nope. No matter what your vegetarian cousin tells you on Thanksgiving, you're not saving the world, yourself or even a bird by not eating turkey. Turkeys will die whether they are pardoned or not. Their lifespan and bodies are not meant for a happily ever life. They're meant to be eaten.

I realize we have bigger issues to solve. But I follow Teddy Roosevelt's words of "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are." I'm an agriculturist. I'm passionate about food and farming. Food animals are meant for eating, to feed you and me, affluent eaters of the world and hungry people. Hungry people need to add protein to their diets. It's backward thinking to pardon a turkey with the hope of the turkey living a longer life.

Turkey pardoning dates back more than 70 years. Poultry gifts represented "patriotism, partisanship and glee," according to the White House Historical Association. Due to rations during World War II, President Harry S. Truman created "poultryless Thursdays," which led to an uproar in the U.S. because Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day all fell on Thursdays in 1947. In the fall of 1947, poultry farmers established "Hens for Harry," sending live birds to Truman, which created the news hook that remains today. Except Truman never pardoned any turkeys. In 1948, at the presidential turkey presentation, he pointed out the turkeys would be eaten on Christmas Day.

Comments of "pardon" and "reprieve" came during the Kennedy and Nixon presidencies. In the Reagan and Bush years, the ceremony evolved to an official "pardoning."

It's time to create a new news angle and bring back the reason God created turkeys — to eat them.

These days, we need animal agriculture awareness. We need to connect farmers and consumers. Forget pardoning a turkey. Eat a turkey.

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