They are definitely lucky ducks – or rather lucky turkeys.
Two turkeys from west-central Minnesota are headed to the White House to receive an official Thanksgiving pardon from President Joe Biden.
The birds hatched in July on a farm near Willmar, Minn., that is part of the Jennie-O Turkey Store, a subsidiary of Hormel.
Jennie-O President Steve Lykken is also this year’s president of the National Turkey Federation. He said the turkeys would enjoy a luxury trip to the nation’s capital in a black Cadillac Escalade.
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“They’ve stayed in a hotel before,” Lykken said. “And they leave in a pretty lavish coach, to be honest.”
Lykken said the turkeys will receive a red carpet at the luxury Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington, DC. They will also appear Sunday at a press conference before the official pardon ceremony on the White House lawn.
The tradition of an American president saving a turkey from the Thanksgiving dinner table dates back to the Harry Truman administration and became a regular tradition in the 1980s. Jennie-O last sent turkeys to the White House 30 years ago.
“I think it’s a great honor for anyone involved in this kind of business, which is a difficult profession. It’s not five days a week,” Lykken said. “We are very grateful to have this opportunity to really showcase what our teams do every day.”
Minnesota is the largest turkey-producing state in the country. Stearns County tops the list of turkey-raising counties, with Kandiyohi – home of Jennie-O – close behind.
“Having turkeys raised in the great state of Minnesota go to the White House for the ultimate honor of being pardoned by the president is wonderful for the turkey industry,” said Ashley Kohls, Executive Director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association.
This positive attention is especially welcome given the destructive bird flu outbreak of the past two years, she said. The total number of domestic birds killed in this fall’s outbreak in Minnesota now exceeds 1.5 million.
“There was a lot of heavy news and heavy topics that we had to deal with,” Kohls said. “So having something fun, that can bring positive attention to our industry, is very welcome.”
Kohls said bird flu is not a food safety issue and people can eat turkey on Thanksgiving and be confident it is safe.
“We also remind people that turkey farmers work on biosecurity all year round, to prevent anything from making their birds sick,” she said. “Their number one goal is always to have happy, healthy birds in their coop. »
Not everyone plans to eat turkey this holiday. The animal welfare group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, has been holding events across the Twin Cities to encourage people to enjoy a vegan meal this year.
Lykken said people have the right to choose what they eat.
“If people want to be vegetarian, I think that’s fantastic. It’s certainly their choice,” he said. “For us, these are different times and we should not enter into this debate. It’s a special opportunity and it’s what we’re really looking forward to.
After the ceremony at the White House, the turkeys will return to Minnesota, where they will live their entire lives at the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences, cared for by students and veterinary professionals, Lykken said.