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Thanksgiving turkeys get presidential pardon (video)

Two 45-pound turkeys, named Liberty and Peace, got a presidential Thanksgiving pardon today.

By JIM KUHNHENNAssociated Press / November 23, 2011

President Obama pardons the official national Thanksgiving Turkey, Liberty, alongside his daughters Sasha and Malia on the North Portico of the White House in Washington on Wednesday. Holding Liberty is Richard Huisinga, Chairman of the National Turkey Federation.

Jason Reed/Reuters

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WASHINGTON

Liberty and Peace are getting a reprieve this year.

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Both are 19-week-old, 45-pound turkeys — their names selected from more than 100 submissions — that President Barack Obama  pardoned Wednesday in an annual Thanksgiving rite.

The birds are from Minnesota, which will surely spur some analysis about the value of sparing turkeys from a political battleground state ahead of an election year. The motives, however, might be simpler — Minnesota produces more turkeys than any other U.S. state.

Liberty, the official national Thanksgiving turkey, and Peace, its alternate, were selected from among 30 turkeys raised and groomed in Willmar, Minn., just for a potential presidential amnesty. One of the 30 turkeys — a bird prosaically named "Ted" — flapped out of his coop Friday during a send-off ceremony with Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. He was retrieved and calmed.

The White House says many of the ideas for names came from Minneapolis and St. Paul schoolchildren who studied the importance of agriculture to the world food supply and to local economies.

The origins of the Thanksgiving pardon is murky. Some say it began with President Harry Truman. But the Truman library says it has no record of such a reprieve. It was formalized in 1989. Since then, the pardoned turkey has gone to a farm to live out the rest of its life. From 2005 to 2009, the pardoned turkey went to Disneyland or Disney World to be part of the Thanksgiving parade.

Following the pardon ceremony at the White House Wednesday, Liberty and Peace will retire to the historic home of George Washington in nearby Mount Vernon, Va. Liberty will have to endure fame and celebrity during "Christmas at Mount Vernon," a special program that runs through Jan. 6. Following the holidays, the two birds will live in a custom-made enclosure at Mount Vernon's livestock facility.

The birds are larger than the average U.S.-bred turkey. According to the Agriculture Department, the U.S. turkey industry produces more than 250 million birds a year, with each live bird averaging about 25 pounds.

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