ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – An animal welfare group operating in New York and California is urging Americans at Thanksgiving to stuff a turkey – with love.

The Farm Sanctuary, however, is ruffling some feathers with its drive to adopt turkeys at its farms or as pets, to have turkeys as “guests” at Thanksgiving dinner and to eat “tasty vegan tofurkeys” – tofu shaped like the bird.

“It’s un-American not to have turkey at Thanksgiving,” declared Sherrie Rosenblatt of the National Turkey Federation, a trade group for the $2.6 billion industry. She said their survey finds 98 percent of people gobble turkey on Thanksgiving, helping to make up a national annual consumption rate of 18 pounds per person.

“That depends on your definition of “American,”‘ clucked Samantha Ragsdale of the Farm Sanctuary. She allows that turkey consumption “probably remains somewhat steady,” but part of that is because more people are becoming vegetarians, while still eating turkeys and chicken.

However, when the group spreads its message – disputed by the industry – of poor treatment of turkeys in corporate farms, consumers drop turkey. “We’re pretty confident about the American position on how animals should be protected.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show New York raises about 500,000 head of turkey. That’s paltry compared to the poultry in, say, Arkansas with 28 million head of turkey, and Missouri’s 22 million head.

Still, New York remains a center of the turkey refugee movement, which includes the global People for Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Farm Sanctuary claims to have rescued hundreds of turkeys and spared the lives of thousands more by dissuading holiday revelers from eating the bird. The effort includes Celebrations For the Turkeys, where turkeys are the guest of honor at the group’s shelters in Watkins Glen and in Orland, Calif.

Rosenblatt, of the turkey producers’ group, notes the advocates haven’t exactly turned the tables on farmers. USDA figures show the turkey industry’s value has increased from $2.2 billion in 1989 to more than $2.6 billion a year.

“These groups have made a philosophical choice of trying to get everyone to be vegetarians, (but) we realize today’s consumers are looking for good, quality, nutritious food they can get from turkey,” she said.

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