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AGRICULTURE REPORT - Turkeys in the U.S. - 2003-12-02

Broadcast: December 2, 2003

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Last Thursday, millions of Americans ate turkey as part of a traditional meal on Thanksgiving, a national holiday. Turkey is also popular on Christmas.

In the past, half of all turkeys sold in the United States were eaten during the holidays. Now that share is thirty percent, as more turkey products appear on the market. Over the years Americans have been eating less red meat and more chicken and turkey. Turkey is now the fourth most popular meat.

The National Turkey Federation in New York represents the industry. The group says Americans eat two times more turkey than they did twenty-five years ago. Last year the average amount per person was eight kilograms. Americans are second only to Israelis in the amount of turkey eaten. The French are third.

Six percent of turkeys raised in the United States are exported. Mexico is the top importer. Next come Hong Kong, Russia and Taiwan.

Over the years, growers have developed birds that are better for industrial meat production. A turkey hen lays eighty to one-hundred eggs in a season. To fertilize the eggs, reproduction is left not to nature but to the process of artificial insemination.

Farmed turkeys grow very quickly. In fourteen weeks, a hen weighs seven kilograms and is ready for market. Male turkeys, called toms, are grown longer. In eighteen weeks, a male turkey weighs more than fourteen kilograms. Hens are usually sold as whole birds. The toms are processed into meat products.

Two-thirds of the cost to raise a turkey is in the food they eat. Farmed turkeys eat a mixture of corn and soybean with vitamins and minerals added. To raise a fourteen-kilogram bird requires about thirty-six kilograms of food.

Most turkeys are raised inside barns. But higher-priced turkeys may be permitted to go outside in the open air. Farm turkeys cannot fly, and even wild turkeys cannot fly very far.

The Department of Agriculture says turkeys are not fed hormones to increase growth. It says turkeys may receive antibiotic drugs to prevent disease and increase feed efficiency. There are turkeys raised without antibiotics or feed grown with chemicals. But people who want to feed their families an organic turkey for the holidays, or any time, pay a higher price at the store.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. This is Steve Ember.