Thursday, November 22, 2007

It's Hard Out There for a Turkey

Two fascinating/disturbing takes on how turkeys come to make baby turkeys in America today. Glad you asked?

[The backstory here is that turkeys are bred for obesity, so they get fat really quickly, so they can turn them around faster.]

Turkeys today grow so fast they they find it impossible to mate naturally. They simply cannot get close enough to physically manage. As a result, all 300 million turkeys born annually in the US are the result of an act of artificial insemination.

(How, you may wonder, is this done? Suffice it to say that there are people, some of whom have Ph.D.s, who have become adept at handling male turkeys in just the right way. The procedure is called--with delicacy but without anatomical accuracy--"abdominal massage." After the semen is thus collected, and then mixed with a myriad of chemicals, there are other "experts" whose job it is to inject the material into the females, using an implement that looks, rather ironically, remarkably like a turkey baster.)
- From John Robbins' The Food Revolution

If there’s anything more American than a nice glass of milk, it’s a turkey dinner. It’s the centerpiece of Thanksgiving and the cornerstone of festive dinners and lunchbox sandwiches everywhere. As a matter of fact, the turkey is such a part of American culture that Benjamin Franklin lobbied for it to be the national bird! Happily, cooler heads prevailed.

Just as dairy farmers wanted more milk, turkey farmers wanted more meat. Specifically white breast meat, which Americans favor over dark meat. Enter selective breeding. In a feat that would impress even a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, farmers have been able to significantly increase the size of the average turkey breast. Not with silicone or saline, but just by breeding the turkeys with the most breast meat. In this case the plan worked almost too well. Male turkeys now have such large breasts that they cannot successfully mount females. Their giant chests get in the way! This renders them completely unable to mate and, as a result, farmers have had to step in. Every Thanksgiving drumstick, turkey sandwich, or turkey pot pie that you eat comes from a turkey that was created with artificial insemination. Selective breeding has given us the big-breasted turkeys we need to satisfy our national hunger for white meat and, in the process, completely eliminated turkey sex.
- From Alon Ziv's Breeding Between the Lines

Happy turkey day everyone!

[thanks to CraftyGoat for the photo]

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