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Your Thanksgiving turkey is probably a product of artificial insemination

Turkeys stand in a barn. Americans will probably eat 40 million turkeys this month -- most of them won't be naturally reproduced.

Kai Ryssdal: Time now for a little Freakonomics Radio. It's that moment every two weeks where we talk to Stephen Dubner, the co-author of the books and the blog of the same name. It's about the hidden side of everything. Dubner, welcome back.

Stephen Dubner: Hey Kai, thanks. I've got a little Thanksgiving quiz for you. Are you up for that?

Ryssdal: No, I don't do quizzes. It's my show. All right, what?

Dubner: Well, I'm going to force you to.

Ryssdal: All right.

Dubner: All right, here we go. Americans will probably eat about 40 million turkeys this month. Now, I hope this doesn't kill your appetite, but what percentage of those 40 million birds do you think were the product of artificial insemination?

Ryssdal: Really? That's the question?

Dubner: That's the question. It is really the question this week.

Ryssdal: All right, 82.6? I don't know.

Dubner: That's a great guess, great guess. The truth is it's actually pretty close to 100 percent.

Ryssdal: Really? So there's no, like, turkey sex going on?

Dubner: Well let's unravel this. Let me ask you this, Kai: When you roast your family turkey, what ends up being the most popular meat that everybody wants?

Ryssdal: Always the white meat. It's the breast meat, always.

Dubner: Always the white meat.

Ryssdal: Yeah.

Dubner: My family, the same. Now some people would say that's just because you want to increase the surface area for gravy. But whatever the case, Americans love their white meat. And this goes back to the 1950s, when traditional turkeys got pushed out by a breed called the broad-breasted white, which grows bigger and faster than the traditional bird. And that broad-breasted white has been selectively bred to have the largest breasts possible.

There's just one problem with this and I'm going to let Julie Long from the USDA explain it to you.

Julie Long: The modern turkey has quite large turkey breasts, and it actually physically gets in the way when the male and the female try to create offspring.

Ryssdal: Create offspring. Come on, really? Did she just say that? So it gets in the way, I guess.

Dubner: On your air.

Ryssdal: Yeah, I know right? And my mother's listening, too. So they can't, you know, do it?

Dubner: That's exactly right. It's tragic, isn't it, if you think about it? And as a result, the turkey industry is built around artificial insemination, which is a very labor-intensive and hands-on process. Here's the way it works: A team of workers has to pick up each male breeder, the tom, which might weigh as much as 70 pounds, secure his contribution -- as they call it in the trade -- and then bring that to the hen house to inseminate each hen. And then keep in mind -- with such an intense consumer demand for turkey -- this is not a once-a-year event. Here's Julie Long again from the USDA.

Long: So that means once a week, five to six months, you have to go work with the males and then go work with the females in order to produce the meat that goes out for the consumer.

Ryssdal: OK, so a couple of things, I love this in its entirety. One, who knew that girl turkeys were called hens? Two, I loved the way that she said "work with," "work with them." But three, this is also conceivably, just to get back to the business thing here, it's a jobs program. Right? You need people to go work with these turkeys.

Dubner: That is a bright side, absolutely a silver lining. Now keep in mind, if you don't like this idea, and you want to serve your family a turkey this Thanksgiving that's the product of natural, old-fashioned turkey reproduction, then you might turn to what's called a heritage turkey. Here's Cyndi Muller, who raises heritage birds in Illinois. But keep in mind, as she makes clear, Kai, it'll cost you.

Cyndi Muller: I know in some parts of the country, the price of a heritage bird for your Thanksgiving table can be over $150, $200 for a bird.

Ryssdal: No way!

Dubner: Way. Way.

Ryssdal: Really? That's a lot of money.

Dubner: Yeah, it's a lot. Well over triple, let's say, what you would pay for a big bird.

Ryssdal: Just to have a little fun in life, right?

Dubner: That's exactly right. I mean look, the holidays are supposed to be a feel-good time.

Ryssdal: Stop. Stop.

Dubner: So you may decide that instead of making yourself feel good by dropping, let's say $100 in the Salvation Army bucket, you might want to spend that $100 subsidizing the right of some male to turkey to, well, you know, have a better holiday.

Ryssdal: And females, it should be said. And females.

Dubner: There you go.

Ryssdal: Freakonomics.com is the website, that's where you send all the hate mail this week. Stephen Dubner, we'll see you in a couple of weeks.

Dubner: Thanks Kai, happy eating.

Ryssdal: Uh yeah, I don't know about that.

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I appreciate your exposure of this story, though not your tone. On a weekly basis, defenseless birds are forced into a chute with electric prods, grabbed, and wrestled into a splayed position where a straw is roughly jammed into them to dispense the semen. You are correct that this is not a great way to make a living. The people employed in this process, usually addicts and criminals with noplace else to go, become increasingly desensitized by the pain they inflict day after day.

How are we supposed to bow our heads and give thanks for God's love when we have paid for criminals to torture His creatures?

Dear Kai and Stephen,

Thank you for reporting the truth about what we are doing to these poor animals. Because of this report, and the many others that are equally sickening to listen to, we now know that we need to change the treatment of these animals.

This report also confirms that this treatment is being done on behalf of us, the consumers (for cheaper, larger turkeys). The good news contained in the report is that because we are the cause of the suffering inflicted, we can also be the solution to their suffering. We can change the treatment of these animals by not creating a market for this product.

While searching for my own answers on how to manage my sadness and guilt as they relate to the treatment of animals on my behalf, I came upon the writing by the people at Mercy for Animals.Org (Mercyforanimals.org). They offer a lot of different information on the treatment of animals and how to help end the inhumane practices. But for starters, having a plant-based diet, for sure, puts an immediate end to the suffering inflicted on these innocent animals. If having a plant-based diet wouldn’t be a daily possibility for your particular situation, perhaps it could be an overall dietary goal? Having such a goal would be good for your health and for the animals. And there is never any guilt or remorse after eating a plant-based meal. Thank you.

I am a person who is sickened and disgusted by the inhumane treatment of animals. Why can't we be kinder? Why must there be so much suffering? Because we can? Because they can't speak for themselves or because they have fur or feathers? Time after time you will see videos of animals loving their young, protecting their families, looking for food to sustain them, drinking water, finding shelter and bascially surviving, just like we do...but they can't speak for themselves therefore they need each and every one of us. As one author wrote in his book for animal advocacy "It's not the worst evil we can do but it's the worst evil we can do to them."

If this is the kind of sick behavior that NPR condones, they can count me out as a listener from now on. I suppose they joke about child abuse as well. Rape and torture of ANY creature is not okay. As a supposedly sophisticated and advanced species, we should work harder to ensure the welfare of the little creatures. We certainly shouldn't find humor in their suffering. NPR, you disgust me.

...these tortured and tormented beings. Most NPR people who eat turkey would help an injured bird if they saw one...but when it's raped and killed for them, and they're able to disassociate, they participate happily...

...so disappointed in NPR

As someone wrote far more eloquently than I could have: these sad, overbred birds are terrified of the repetitive, painfully distressing and alien artificial insemination and masturbation process - this violent sexual human assault they are helpless to defend themselves against. Grow up NPR, I am ashamed for you.

I am becoming increasingly disillusioned with the quality of thought and reporting on NPR. In the past month or so, I have listened in disbelief as your hosts and guests laughed nervously (guiltily?) over stories of animal abuse and slaughter. Yes, we understand, most of you still consume animals and want to make a "joke" out of it so that you can feel better about it. But is that really the mature and professional thing to do?

Regarding artificially inseminating turkeys, I think Jonathan Safran Foer said it best when he appeared on the Ellen Degeneres Show.

“I love Thanksgiving. Why do I like it? Because I like celebrating with my family. And I like what we’re celebrating. I like being grateful. I like being thankful. It feels good. And the more I learned about the centerpiece that’s on the table, the less good I felt about it. It is not a symbol of gratefulness. It is not a symbol of thankfulness. It's an animal who is now incapable of reproducing sexually. None of the turkeys you buy in the supermarkets can reproduce sexually. They are fed a steady diet of drugs for their entire lives and they live in tiny, cramped areas. They are incapable of surviving outdoors. What does this have to do with harvest? What does this have to do with being American? What does it have to do with being grateful? Nothing.”

Source: http://ellen.warnerbros.com/videos/?autoplay=true&mediaKey=fc107a39-47dc...

This is so disturbing. I look forward to the day when we celebrate thankfulness with compassion for all sentient beings -- including animals. I didn't appreciate the humor embedded in this segment. Suffering in vain is not funny.

How cavalierly these people discuss what is in fact, a gross and sickening procedure for the living, breathing feeling creatures involved: the turkeys. I suppose their thought is that the birds are doomed, anyway. But for just a moment, folks, put yourself in the place of these, by nature, gentle, intelligent birds. The way they are conceived is just the beginning of their long journey into a manmade, torturous hell. It's not funny, it's terribly cruel, and your lack of empathy is both sickening and appalling.

Masterbating turkeys as a profession? Sounds like beastiality to me. How sick are these people?

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