President George W. Bush today “pardoned” the National Thanksgiving Turkey in a White House Ceremony, as he and National Turkey Federation (NTF) Chairman Paul Hill celebrated the 61st anniversary of the National Thanksgiving Turkey presentation.

Hill presented President Bush with “Pumpkin,” a 20-week old, 45-pound tom. The turkey’s name was chosen by visitors to the White House Web site, who voted on their favorite names for the National Thanksgiving Turkey and its alternate, “Pecan.”

NTF President Joel Brandenberger joined President Bush and Hill at the White House Rose Garden for the annual Thanksgiving presentation.

The annual presentation of the National Thanksgiving Turkey to the president has become a tradition in the nation’s capital, signaling the unofficial beginning of the holiday season and providing the president an opportunity to reflect publicly on the meaning of the Thanksgiving season.

“This is my final Thanksgiving as the President. Over the past eight years, I have been given many reasons to be thankful. I'm thankful to our men and women in uniform and I am incredibly proud to have been their Commander-in-Chief. I am thankful for the armies of compassion volunteers who feed the hungry and shelter the poor,” said President Bush.

President Bush then “pardoned” the National Thanksgiving Turkey and its alternate. Both birds were raised in Ellsworth, Iowa, under the supervision of Hill, chairman of West Liberty Foods, headquartered in West Liberty, Iowa. Hill’s son, Nathan, handled the turkey during the ceremony.

The National Thanksgiving Turkey was raised using normal feeding and other production techniques on Nathan Hill’s farm. The one exception is that the bird was provided increased interaction with people, including Nathan’s son’s Conner and Collin, so that the turkey would be prepared for his role at the White House Ceremony.

“During these tough economic times, it’s important to reflect on the significant role the turkey industry plays in the centerpiece of our Thanksgiving table,” said Paul Hill. “It is also important, as well as exciting and humbling, to represent the turkey industry at the White House and continue a remarkable tradition around this truly American holiday of Thanksgiving.”

Along with being chairman of West Liberty Foods, the 12th largest turkey processor in the United States, Hill is president of Circle Hill Farms, Ltd., in Ellsworth, Iowa. He was instrumental in the founding of West Liberty Foods, a farmer-owned company, 11 years ago, which now processes more than 217 million pounds of turkey meat annually.

The night before the presentation, “Pumpkin” and “Pecan” stayed in a suite at the Willard Hotel. After the pardoning, the National Thanksgiving Turkey and the alternate were flown first class on United Airlines to the Disneyland in California, where the National Thanksgiving Turkey will be the grand marshal of “Disney’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.” After the parade, guests will be able to visit the turkeys at Big Thunder Ranch in Frontierland at Disneyland.

Jaindl’s Turkey Farm in Orefield, Pa., gave President Bush’s family two dressed turkeys to enjoy at their Thanksgiving dinner.