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Why The ‘Turkey Shortage’ Won't Affect Your Thanksgiving Dinner

Martin Pettitt
Flickr - Creative Commons

Watched the news lately? Then you might’ve heard about impending doom for Thanksgiving dinners across the country. Butterball, the country’s largest turkey supplier, is running out of turkeys.

But not really.

Here’s the background. Last week, Butterball, a company that provides approximately 20 percent of the Thanksgiving Day birds to consumers, told some of their buyers that they’d be unable to fill orders for large, fresh turkeys in supermarkets across the country. They had to cut some orders by half. But the shortage is only of unfrozen turkeys weighing 16 pounds or more.

So, on the chance that shoppers were heading to the grocery store looking to buy a big fresh bird for the holiday meal, the company told consumers to pick up a frozen one instead. Just make sure you give it three to five days to thaw.

The company doesn’t sound too concerned about the shortage. Other turkey providers, like Minnesota-based Jennie-O and Kansas-based Cargill Value Added Meats, will be more than happy to fill the fresh turkey gap left by Butterball. Fresh turkeys only make up 15 percent of all turkeys sold for Thanksgiving.

The other 85 percent of the market is made up of birds that are flash-frozen and still in ample supply. Not to mention this was only for the largest birds -- you can still get smaller turkeys fresh and ready for the oven.

The bigger question, and more interesting story, about the shortage is how it came about in the first place. Butterball puts the blame on the birds themselves. They say it’s due to "a decline in weight gain on some of our farms,” but couldn’t put an exact reason behind the skinnier turkeys.

Over at Quartz, the plot thickens, even if the birds do not. They note that the industry “has cranked out steadily heavier turkeys with each passing year. In 2011, the average turkey weighed some 57 percent more than in 1965, according to the US Department of Agriculture.”

Butterball is staying mum, just saying that the problem should be remedied by the next big holiday where a golden bird is the centerpiece: Christmas.

As KUNC’s managing editor and reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I edit and produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.
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