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Butterball trying to figure out why there's a turkey shortage

By Candace Choi

AP Food Industry Writer

LAST UPDATED: 06:10 a.m. HST, Nov 19, 2013

NEW YORK >> Butterball apparently has big fat mystery on its hands: The company says it doesn't know why some of its turkeys wouldn't plump up in time for Thanksgiving this year.

CEO Rod Brenneman says in an interview with the AP that it's the first time it happened and that the company is investigating what went wrong. Butterball had announced last week that it will have a limited supply of large, fresh turkeys that are 16 pounds or heavier for the holidays.

"It's a really good question. We don't have an answer yet," Brenneman said when asked about the cause. But he noted that turkeys are "biological creatures" subject to a variety of factors.

"For whatever reason, they just didn't gain quite as well this year," he said.

Like many other turkey producers, Butterball feeds its birds antibiotics to prevent and treat illnesses, which can occur from living in cramped quarters. The use of antibiotics, which also promote growth in livestock, has been the subject of concern that it could lead to antibiotic-resistant germs.

Butterball, a privately held company based in Garner, N.C., declined to say whether it made any changes to its feed this year. But the problem seems to have come up rather recently.

For much of the year, Butterball produces turkeys that are frozen and stored until they're ready to be sold for the holidays. But then in October and November, it shifts into production for fresh turkeys. And that's when the company ran into problems with the turkeys not gaining enough weight, Brenneman said.

Butterball declined to say whether the issue has been resolved or provide details on the extent of its shortage. But Big Y, a supermarket chain based in Springfield, Mass., said in a statement that it had been notified by the company that orders across the country were cut by 50 percent.

Mark Kastel, founder of The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based group that advocates for organic farming, noted that major poultry producers tightly control production factors, making Butterball's shortage unusual.

"I thought that was very mysterious. I could not think of a rational explanation," Kastel said, suggesting that a change in the feed formula may have been to blame.

Butterball's shortage shouldn't be a problem for most since fresh turkeys only account for about 15 percent of sales, with frozen turkeys accounting for the rest. Butterball also makes only about one out of every five turkeys eaten on Thanksgiving.

Over at Cargill, spokesman Michael Martin says in an email that the company has never had a problem where it's birds didn't put on enough weight to produce an adequate supply of large turkeys.

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mikethenovice wrote:
I always buy a few turkeys at sale price to cook for my dogs at Thanksgiving time, and Christmas time.
on November 19,2013 | 05:41AM
kawikakoike96819 wrote:
We do the same except we buy around 18 turkeys to use to feed our small dogs throughout the next year. We mix the turkey with brown rice & gravy. Cheaper than buying dog food. LOL
on November 19,2013 | 12:11PM
mikethenovice wrote:
So what I gathered from this story is that it is easier to plump up a person that a turkey?
on November 19,2013 | 05:42AM
mikethenovice wrote:
I have that same electronic thermometer from amazon.
on November 19,2013 | 05:43AM
loquaciousone wrote:
I hear that the turkeys all went on the Jenny Craig diet to avoid the Thanksgiving tables this year.
on November 19,2013 | 05:54AM
Ulalei wrote:
Turkey's were all self conscious after seeing and hearing all the talk about Miley Cyrus' strip dance at the VMAs. She was twerking not turkeying.
on November 19,2013 | 06:53AM
bekwell wrote:
There's a turkey shortage because all the gay turkeys are marrying each other.
on November 19,2013 | 08:16AM
stingray65 wrote:
Turkey dish is more of traditional than nutritional….Better watch out for leftover!!
on November 19,2013 | 09:14AM
juscasting wrote:
I prefer cooking smaller turkeys (under 15lbs) than one big mama jamma.
on November 19,2013 | 10:43AM
TazFTW wrote:
The... the crowd is uh... curious but well behaved. And I think I hear something now. Uh... The crowd is moving out into the parking area. And... oh yes! I can see it now. It's a... it's a... helicopter and it's coming this way! It's flying something behind it and I can't quite make it out. It's a large banner and it says H A P P Y... T H A N K S... giving... from W... K... R... P! What a sight, ladies and gentlemen. What a sight. The 'copter seems to circling the parking area now. I guess it's looking for a place to land. No! Something just came out of the back of a helicopter. It's a dark object, perhaps a skydiver plummeting to the earth from only two thousand feet in the air... There's a third... No parachutes yet... Those can't be skydivers. I can't tell just yet what they are but... Oh my God! They're turkeys! Oh no! Johnny can you get this? Oh, they're crashing to the earth right in front of our eyes! One just went through the windshield of a parked car! This is terrible! Everyone's running around pushing each other. Oh my goodness! Oh, the humanity! People are running about. The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement! Folks, I don't know how much longer... The crowd is running for their lives. I think I'm going to step inside. I can't stand here and watch this anymore. No, I can't go in there. Children are searching for their mothers and oh, not since the Hindenberg tragedy has there been anything like this. I don't know how much longer I can hold my position here, Johnny. The crowd...
on November 19,2013 | 10:43AM
awahana wrote:
Gouvinda's, here I come!
on November 19,2013 | 11:03AM
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