Billie Eilish, Joaquin Phoenix, and More Ask Biden to Hand Pardoned Turkeys Over to Farm Sanctuary

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Nov. 15 2021, Published 12:33 p.m. ET

turkey pardon
Source: Getty Images

In the U.S., it’s tradition for the president to “pardon” a turkey or two every Thanksgiving. In the televised ceremony, the POTUS spares these turkeys from death, promising to let them live out their lives peacefully. However, the places these pardoned turkeys are sent are not always ideal.

So, in preparation for Thanksgiving 2021, a slew of celebrities have signed Farm Sanctuary’s petition asking President Joe Biden to surrender this year’s pardoned turkeys to the animal sanctuary.

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Thanksgiving turkeys in factory farm
Source: Getty Images

Every year, about 46 million turkeys are slaughtered for Thanksgiving.

What happens to the pardoned turkeys?

While it’s true the pardoned turkeys are saved from being slaughtered for Thanksgiving dinner, they often wind up in places that are only slightly better than factory farms.

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Every Thanksgiving from 2016 through 2020, the pardoned turkeys have been sent to Gobblers Rest, a turkey enclosure at Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, as per WAMU. PETA visited Virginia Tech in January 2021, and described the conditions at Gobblers Rest as “abysmal.” The animal welfare group asked Virginia Tech to release the turkeys to a sanctuary, to no avail.

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Prior to 2016, pardoned turkeys have been sent to places like petting zoos, other farms, and even Disneyland. As per local news outlet WTHR, Biden will be pardoning two turkeys from an Indiana farm this year, but the White House has yet to announce where the birds will retire after Thanksgiving.

“Despite being a promotional event by the National Turkey Federation, the turkey pardoning ceremony is actually a powerful demonstration of compassion for animals raised for food by one of the most powerful people on the planet,” Meredith Turner-Smith, a spokesperson for Farm Sanctuary, tells Green Matters exclusively in an email.

Turkeys are emotional and loving animals, and they deserve the same care as the dogs and cats in so many Americans’ homes. For that reason, Farm Sanctuary is hoping to rescue this year’s pardoned turkeys.

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Farm Sanctuary is asking Biden to release the pardoned turkeys.

Farm Sanctuary, which was founded in 1986, claims to be the first dedicated farmed animal sanctuary in the U.S. With two locations, in California and New York, Farm Sanctuary rescues farmed animals from farms, slaughterhouses, and other situations of abuse, and provides them with a new forever home in sanctuary.

“If you host a presidential turkey pardoning this year, we hope you’ll allow the birds to come live at Farm Sanctuary,” Farm Sanctuary’s CEO Megan Watkins and its President and Co-Founder Gene Baur wrote to President Biden in a letter ahead of Thanksgiving, which falls on Nov. 25 this year.

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“Animals receive quality care from experienced caregiving teams at our sanctuaries in California and New York, and they are allowed to live out their lives in peace and safety,” the letter continues. “Modern turkeys have been genetically altered to grow exceptionally fast and large and they require specialized attention, which birds pardoned by previous presidents haven’t received.”

They add that they would like to provide “the best life possible” for the pardoned turkeys, giving them a life filled with dust baths, grass, and medical care — things that turkeys in factory farms, petting zoos, and university farm programs have zero or limited access to.

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"When you sign this petition, you’re asking President Biden to make this act be more than just symbolic," Turner-Smith tells Green Matters on behalf of Farm Sanctuary. "After all, it’s not turkeys who have done anything wrong, it’s our food system which inflicts enormous suffering on nearly 223 million of them every year. We all have the power to 'pardon' a turkey by leaving one off our table."

Many celebrities are also asking President Biden to surrender the pardoned turkeys.

Many celebrities have signed the petition, including Alan Cumming, Mayim Bialik, Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, Billie Eilish, Maggie Baird (Eilish’s mom), Ricky Gervais, Margaret Cho, Natasha Lyonne, Mena Suvari, and Dave Bautista.

Click here to sign the petition, and join the above celebrities and activists in asking President Biden to make a compassionate choice this Thanksgiving. You can also make a donation to Farm Sanctuary (as well as a number of other sanctuaries) to symbolically adopt a turkey, in exchange for a certificate of adoption that you can proudly display at your Thanksgiving dinner.

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