As the national advocate for turkey farmers and processors, the National Turkey Federation gobbles up attention during the holidays, but its work extends well beyond this time of year.
When John Burkel, a turkey farmer from Badger, Wisconsin, makes the trek to Washington, DC, this week, he’ll be following in the footsteps of dozens of National Turkey Federation chairmen before him who have presented the president of the United States with the National Thanksgiving Turkey—by far the most high-profile event NTF participates in each year.
“It’s one of the few things in this world that with rank comes privilege,” joked NTF President Joel Brandenberger. “There is a lot of attention focused on the industry this time of year, and we enjoy and appreciate that. It presents a great opportunity for us to tell the world about the modern turkey industry.”
Aside from visiting the White House to present the national turkey—which, as a matter of tradition, the president pardons from becoming someone’s dinner and sends on to Mount Vernon for the Christmas season—NTF promotes various recipes and food-safety and cooking-safety tips tailored to the holidays. That work continues year round, Brandenberger said: “Food safety tips, especially, are important to us, because we want people to enjoy a safe product.”
Thanksgiving isn’t everything, though, for NTF, whose members include well-known national brands like Butterball, Hillshire Brands, and Purdue Farms. Brandenberger said the organization takes pride in representing the turkey industry before Congress and various regulatory agencies and providing communications and marketing tools and educational offerings to their members throughout the year.
“Our members are looking for us to tell a story of how the industry is producing a safe, nutritious product at price points that make it affordable to Americans at all income levels,” said Brandenberger. “And we also work in concert with our members to do some product promotion before the summer months to remind people of the options that are available as we go into grilling season.”
On the advocacy front, NTF is watching a number of issues, including immigration reform, which Brandenberger said, among other things, could greatly increase the pool of potential workers; the EPA’s corn ethanol mix debate, which affects feed costs for turkey farmers; and animal welfare issues. The group is also watching for progress on a poultry inspection modernization rule that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been working on for over a year.
“Food safety issues in general we keep an eye on, but that one in particular is a special interest to us,” Brandenberger said. “The rule is based on more than a decade of experience and 25 pilot plans that have been testing this modernized system, and the results are phenomenal for food safety, for worker safety, [and] from a product-quality standpoint. We’re really excited and hopeful that we’ll see these real soon.”