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Inflation ruffles feathers ahead of Biden's turkey pardoning ceremony

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

There's a weird but, I guess, wonderful tradition this time of year at the White House. Yesterday, President Biden upheld that custom and pardoned two turkeys.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: That's what the Thanksgiving tradition is all about, being grateful for what we have and grateful for fellow Americans, who we may never meet but who will be...

(SOUNDBITE OF TURKEY GOBBLING)

BIDEN: There you go. They're grateful.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, they would be grateful. While the crowd was all smiles, there was a bit of a dust-up ahead of the event over just how much Thanksgiving dinner is going to cost this year. NPR politics reporter Ximena Bustillo was at the turkey pardon. All right. So inflation was a big political issue during the recent midterms. I understand it ruffled feathers ahead of this event. Sorry. I had to go there.

XIMENA BUSTILLO, BYLINE: (Laughter) Yeah, it did. So it started about a week ago. The American Farm Bureau Federation, which is the largest agricultural lobby group, put out a result of an annual survey that it does. They sent volunteer shoppers to grocery stores to look at how much the ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner cost. And they found that the price of turkeys was up by 21% over last year.

MARTÍNEZ: Twenty-one percent sounds like a lot. What did the Biden administration say about that?

BUSTILLO: Well, President Biden's chief of staff even got into it on Twitter. And by the end of the same day, the USDA released their own data. And they said that turkey prices were only up by less than 9 cents on the pound, far less than what the Farm Bureau was saying. So I asked the Farm Bureau about the conflicting data. And they explained that their survey was done in October. The USDA's price check was done more recently, at a time when most grocery store chains have put whole frozen turkeys on sale at way lower prices. But the main point is - that they made is this, that Americans pay way less for food than anywhere else in the world. And here is Farm Bureau's chief economist, Roger Cryan.

ROGER CRYAN: If you adjust for inflation, the 12-item basket for the Thanksgiving dinner for 10 folks this year, even with the big increases in the last few years, we're still cheaper after inflation than it was in 1987.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So prices are higher to some degree. But does that mean farmers are making more money?

BUSTILLO: No. So there is another farm lobby group that they call the National Farmers Union. And they say that small farmers are really getting squeezed. They say that if a turkey sells for a $1.99 a pound, the farmer only gets 6 cents of that. And all of these inflationary factors affect farmers, too, like the price of gas. And there was a big hiccup this year in the supply chain, particularly for turkeys. The bird flu hit many farms this year. And that pushed up prices on all kinds of poultry products like chicken, eggs and turkeys. And this is because birds that were sick had to be killed. And about 8 million turkeys suffered this fate, according to the Agriculture Department.

MARTÍNEZ: So is the Biden administration, then, working to do anything about these price hikes for farmers, particularly - I mean, or can they, actually?

BUSTILLO: Well, even the Farm Bureau, which tends to be known for being a little bit more right-wing leaning says that there is little the president can do about prices. Here's Roger Cryan again.

CRYAN: There's a limit to how much the government can do about the economy. What's really important, I think, is that we get a good farm bill in 2023 because food security in the U.S. often is a matter of shuffling money around to make sure that folks in need here have access to good food.

BUSTILLO: The farm bill expires at the end of 2023. And it has programs to help farmers. And Republicans want to keep many of those things steady. The farm bill also has money for food stamps and school lunch programs. And advocates for these things are going to be pushing to expand those programs. So negotiations are going to be one of the big things to watch in this new Congress.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Ximena Bustillo, thanks a lot.

BUSTILLO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.