Americans eat less turkey, send more abroad

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Photo by Robert Holly/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Sampling standards on young turkey carcasses have gotten more rigorous in recent years. In 2005, regulation permitted 13 of 56 sampled turkeys to test positive for salmonella. In 2011, authorities lowered that acceptable amount to four of 56 turkeys.

Americans will eat more than 5 billion pounds of turkey this year, according to November projections by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

To put that number in perspective, that’s about equal to eating the same weight of more than 40 ships the size of the Titanic.

Yet, the total is 10 million pounds less than last year and 60 million pounds less than in 2010, data show. It is well over a quarter of billion pounds less turkey than what Americans consumed in 2007.

“In previous decades, turkeys have been mainly considered a holiday product,” states the Environmental Protection Agency’s Ag 101 page on poultry. “However, with advances of further-processing as well as an increasingly health-conscious population in the U.S., the turkey has become a popular year-round meat.”

Overall, producers supplied about 6 billion pounds of turkey in 2007. The Economic Research Service projections estimate they will supply a total of about 5.9 billion pounds in 2013.

While the amount of turkey that Americans consume has drastically decreased from six years ago, the amount of turkey that U.S. producers are exporting has increased.

“Fast food and restaurant markets have not been nearly as receptive to turkey as to chicken, but the export market has been an important outlet for dark turkey meat (thighs and drumsticks), with Mexico being the leading market,” found an Economic Research Service report on changes in poultry production. “A large quantity of mechanically separated turkey meat is also exported to both Mexico and Russia.”

Producers exported almost 800 million pounds of turkey in 2012, more than 98 million pounds of turkey compared to 2011.

In 2007, producers only exported 546 million pounds of turkey.

The export business has paid off, too.

The nearly 800 million pounds of turkey exported in 2012 netted a total of $591 million in foreign sales.

As a whole, the U.S. turkey farming industry – most of which is based across eight states – yielded $5.4 billion in sales last year.

About three out of every four turkeys come from Minnesota, North Carolina, Arkansas, Missouri, Virginia, Indiana, California and South Carolina.

Minnesota produces more turkeys a year than any other state, accounting for about 18 percent of all U.S. turkeys.

Turkeys have more than doubled in weight since 1929, growing from an average of about 13 pounds in 1929 to an average of about 30 pounds in 2012, according to information from the National Agriculture Statics Service.

“Modern poultry production occurs primarily in enclosed buildings to protect the birds from predators, and the spread of diseases from wild birds,” stated the Environmental Protection Agency’s poultry page. “This has allowed farmers to greatly increase production efficiently while significantly reducing the amount of labor required.”

Turkey producers will raise about 242,000,000 turkeys this year, according to The National Agriculture Statistics Service.

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