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PETA to Obama: Turkey pardon ceremony is for the birds

President Obama pardons a turkey during a ceremony at the White House on Nov. 25, 2009.
President Obama pardons a turkey during a ceremony at the White House on Nov. 25, 2009.Alex Brandon / AP

In what has become a Thanksgiving tradition, the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals is asking for an end to a Thanksgiving tradition.

On Tuesday, PETA sent a letter to President Obama asking him to skip the annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon, a tradition that dates back to Abraham Lincoln. The letter sent by PETA president Ingrid Newkirk said the ceremony “makes light of the mass slaughter of some 46 million gentle, intelligent birds” and “portrays the United States president as being in some sort of business partnership with the turkey-killing industry.”

“We usually ask for other things, but this is the first time we have asked (the president) to give the ceremony a rest,’’ Newkirk told “I think it’s just been building. The time has come. It’s hard to find anybody who supports the idea of factory farming, and there have been so many reports this year of the environmental effects of factory farming. To have a president who is supposed to be progressive standing there with an industry representative of factory farming knowing about these environmental issues, it’s not very green to welcome him to the White House and endorse factory farms.’’

The surprisingly short history of presidential turkey pardons

PETA had not received any official response from the White House on Tuesday afternoon, and Newkirk said that in the past the usual response is that the organization has “been thanked for our concern.’’ That might be as good as it gets this year, considering that earlier on Tuesday, a Facebook poll was created by the White House that allows the public to vote on which turkey will be pardoned.

The letter also compared the situation of the turkeys to that of minorities, women and the gay and lesbian community.

"You understand so well that African-Americans, women, and members of the LGBT community have been poorly served throughout history, and now I am asking you to consider other living beings who are ridiculed, belittled, and treated as if their sentience, feelings, and very natures count for nothing," Newkirk wrote in the letter.

If it can’t bring the ceremony to an end, PETA would at least like it to be called something else.

“We want to change it from a pardon,’’ Newkirk said. “The bird has done nothing wrong, so it should be changed to something else more appropriate, like an ‘excusing,’ or a ‘liberating.’’’

Before Thanksgiving last year, PETA released an ad targeted toward children with a dog’s head Photoshopped on a turkey’s body next to the question “If you wouldn’t eat your dog, why eat a turkey?” PETA used the same ad campaign for this year’s Canadian Thanksgiving on Oct. 8.

Last year, PETA also sent a letter to the mayor of the tiny town of Turkey, Texas, requesting him to change the town’s name to “Tofurky’’ for Thanksgiving Day in exchange for PETA providing a vegan holiday meal for all the town’s residents. The request was rejected by the town’s officials.

“We’re just trying to provoke and create some argument and thought about it,’’ Newkirk said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Paul McCartney tweeted a photo of himself in a PETA ad wearing a shirt that says “Eat No Turkey” and the slogan of “Say No, Thanks to Turkey” that urges people to go vegetarian. Newkirk encourages people to eat tofurkey and other commercial products sold as alternatives to the traditional Thanksgiving turkey feast.

Given Obama’s past comments, there’s a good chance tofurkey will not be on the presidential plate this year.

"I'm told Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson actually ate their turkeys," Obama told reporters in 2009. "You can't fault them for that. That's a good-looking bird." contributor Scott Stump once pardoned three turkeys crossing the road while he was driving 50 miles per hour.

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