Look What Overbreeding Has Done to Your Thanksgiving Turkey

Thanksgiving turkeys nowadays are deformed and twice as heavy as they were 80 years ago

Since Thanksgiving demand has grown, the common turkey has developed an obesity problem

You may want to think twice before picking up the fattest, juiciest bird for your Thanksgiving feast. Turkeys have certainly changed quite a bit since Thanksgiving feasts 80 years ago, when, according to a Mother Jones, the average turkey weighed in at 13 pounds with a small breast. Nowadays, due to demand and selective breeding for an increasingly hungry population, the average bird weighs just under 30 pounds, with a large, deformed breast and stooped shoulders. Your Thanksgiving turkey likely couldn’t stand upright before its journey to your dinner plate.

Suzanne McMillan, senior director of the farm animal welfare campaign of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said that the birds got so big (male toms can even weigh up to 50 pounds), that reproduction happens solely through artificial insemination, and the birds all live indoors in close quarters, or sometimes cages. As a result, many turkeys develop sores on their feet and breasts, and resort to cannibalism due to the unnatural living conditions.

This all sounds pretty scary, but is there anything you can do about it? McMillan suggests that you only buy turkeys through certified animal welfare programs where turkeys are treated and raised humanely. You can find a list of farms that are certified here. You may want to skip turkey giant Butterball, as PETA claims that their “humane” label is misleading.

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Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @JoannaFantozzi