Political Calculations
Unexpectedly Intriguing!
25 November 2022
Stable Diffusion: A cooked turkey in a laboratory, beside a microscope, scientists

We haven't yet seen the iteration of the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation television franchise that rips this story from the headlines, but in 2007, turkey DNA was instrumental in proving the guilt of a criminal.

We had high hopes when we first saw the headline Utah State University Helps Solve Iowa Turkey Crime. Could it be that the crime being investigated involved a frozen turkey leg used as a murder weapon that was subsequently cooked in an effort to destroy evidence by serving it to the police who were investigating it? But no, it was nothing so dramatic. The crime in question involved poaching, where the murder victims were themselves wild turkeys.

Here's the key to how the Utah State University researchers cracked the case:

When game wardens served a search warrant on Iowa hunter Justin Jones, they found five packages of turkey meat. They suspected Jones used a 12-gauge shotgun to poach wild turkeys.

He beat a similar rap once before because no one could prove the meat came from wild turkeys instead the grocery store. This time authorities shipped meat samples to Utah State where they have the only nationwide wild turkey DNA database.

Who knew we needed one? But in this case it was invaluable. Samples from Justin Jones' private stash of turkey meat matched the DNA of wild turkey. "It was pretty convincing that they were, in fact, poached, that they were not domestic turkeys," genetics lab manager Carol Rowe said.

There was more to it than just comparing DNA matches to samples in USU's database. Here's how the Utah State researchers described how they got their man.

Roberg contacted Mock, who agreed to help with the investigation – but she needed help. Mock required DNA samples from known wild turkeys in the same geographic region as the suspected poached birds.

“If you’re showing a particular bird came from a particular population, you have to figure out the probability that this genotype came from your target population rather than from some other population,” says Mock, assistant professor in USU’s Department of Wildland Resources.

With help from Iowa conservation officers and state DNR personnel 78 samples were collected and shipped to USU’s lab. Mock and her team went to work and discovered that the samples seized from the suspect’s freezer showed a high probability of coming from the Iowa wild turkey population.

In the end, they had the suspect dead to rights, leading to perhaps the most boring legal outcome possible:

In October, Jones entered a guilty plea in court and was ordered to pay fines and court costs plus $1,000 toward the cost of USU’s efforts.

This 15-year old case is surprising in many ways. But perhaps the most surprising is how low the cost of doing DNA analysis had become. Consider the following:

  1. There is an exclusive database with the DNA samples of both wild and domesticated turkeys.
  2. It is worthwhile for conservation officers to call up the equivalent of CSI: Wild Turkeys for assistance in resolving criminal cases.

DNA analysis has become even cheaper since. Offenders committing turkey-related crimes should beware!

Image Credit: Stable Diffusion DreamStudio Beta - "A cooked turkey in a laboratory, beside a microscope, scientists".

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24 November 2022

Like most holidays, the social dynamics of Thanksgiving can present challenges. Dealing with those challenges can be challenging. We challenge you to overcome the challenging challenges you face... by laughing at them.

We know you need something like this because you're reading this here, on Thanksgiving, rather than engaging with whoever you've gathered with for the holiday. It's okay. We understand. We got you!

Go ahead and take a moment at this critical juncture of your Thanksgiving holiday experience to enjoy the following 15 minute video featuring the somehow Thanksgiving-related stories shared by stand-up comedians Brad Upton, Will Marfori, Tommy Drake, Key Lewis, Tony Deyo, Dylan Mandlsohn, Michael Palascak, Maija Digiorgio, Lucas Bohn, Corey Rodrigues, and Kevin Jordan. Because it might make all the difference in how you experience whatever challenge you're having at your Thanksgiving celebration.

Now, if that 15 minutes didn't do the job, follow the links below for additional survival tips to make it through the day. And remember, once you have made it through the day, you'll have a full year to come up with better plan for how to deal with it than what you had this year!

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23 November 2022

Having covered the inflating cost of a Thanksgiving turkey in 2022, we're turning our attention to something very different: the shrinking size of U.S. farm-raised turkeys in 2022.

That became a cause of concern for American consumers after the U.S. government warned that big turkeys would be scarce in 2022. Here's Axios' executive summary:

The U.S. government is warning of a big shortage of big birds this Thanksgiving.

Why it matters: Because of this year's avian flu outbreaks, finding 20-pound turkeys in some regions of the country could be challenging, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in a call with reporters on Tuesday.

The bird flu has killed more than 8 million turkeys, according to CDC data.

What they're saying: "Some of the turkeys that are being raised right now for Thanksgiving may not have the full amount of time to get to 20 pounds," Vilsack said on the call, which was about the administration's effort to reduce meat and poultry prices in the long-term.

We've seen this show before, since avian flu was also behind 2015's turkey shortage. But Axios' article doesn't answer the direct question it raises. How much smaller are U.S. farm-raised turkeys in 2022?

To find out we started with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's estimate of the total "Ready-To-Cook" (RTC) weight of turkeys that will brought to market during 2022. That figure is 5.214 billion pounds.

Looking at the last 10 years worth of data, we determined the RTC weight of turkeys averaged 79.1% of the live weight of U.S. farm-raised turkeys. Dividing the total RTC weight by this percentage gives us an estimated total live weight for farm-raised turkeys of 6.592 billion pounds. If we broaden our analysis to look at the range of RTC-to-Live weight percentages over the last 10 years, we find it has fallen between 77.46% (2021) and 79.94% (2015). Doing the same math with these figures gives us a potential range of 6.522 to 6.731 billion pounds for the live weight estimate. The higher the percentage, the smaller the estimated live weight.

All we need to know now is the estimated population of turkeys on U.S. farms. For 2022, that preliminary estimate is 212 million turkeys. That figure is two percent below 2021's final count of 216.5 million turkeys.

We can now estimate the average live weight of a U.S. farm raised turkey. Dividing the total live weight of all turkeys by their population in 2022 tells us that figure is 31.1 pounds (with a potential range between 30.8 and 31.8 pounds based on the range of total live weights). The following chart shows how that fits with all the data reported since 1970.

Average Live Weight of U.S. Farm Raised Turkeys, 1970-2021 with Estimate for 2022

If the USDA's estimates hold, 2022 has seen the largest year-over-year reduction in the average weight of turkeys in U.S. history. Talk about turkey shrinkflation!

References

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service. Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook. (LDP-M-339). [Excel Spreadsheet]. 16 September 2022.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. National Agricultural Statistics Service. Turkeys Raised. [PDF Document]. 23 September 2022.

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22 November 2022

The American Farm Bureau Federation reports the cost of providing a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner for 10 people in 2022 is 20% higher than a year ago. The identical grocery items that cost $53.31 a year ago now cost $64.05 according to the Farm Bureau's shopping survey, which is released each year just one week ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. That new food inflation comes on top of the year-over-year 14% increase recorded last year. Over the past two years, the grocery bill for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner has risen by 36.6%.

All these changes are illustrated in the following chart, in which we've visualized the costs of all the items on the Farm Bureau's annual Thanksgiving shopping list from 2020 through 2022.

Cost of a Traditional Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner, 2020 vs 2021 vs 2022

In the chart, we've ranked the cost of the individual items and groupings used by the Farm Bureau for their traditional turkey dinner menu from high to low according to their 2021 cost as you read from left to right. We've also tallied the cumulative cost of the meal, with the totals for each shown on the far right side of the chart.

Ranking the data this way lets us see that the increase in the cost of turkey is once again responsible for most of the year-over-year increase in the cost of the meal. Here we see the cost of a 16-pound bird rose by 20.7% to $28.96 in 2022. This single item alone accounts for over 46% of the year-over-year increase in the total cost for the meal. Since 2020, the cost of turkey has increased by $9.57, making up 56% of the realized increase in Thanksgiving dinner ingredient costs over that time.

Meanwhile, only the price of cranberries fell compared to last year, dropping by 13.8%. Every other Thanksgiving dinner items increased in cost during 2022.

Among those items, a 1-pound veggie tray of carrots and celery registered the smallest year-over-year price increase of 7.3%. Every other item's cost was up significantly, recording double-digit year-over-year price increases ranging from a low of 11.2% for sweet potatoes to a high of 69.4% for a 14-ounce package of cubed bread stuffing.

During the last ten years, the cost of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner held steady within a relatively narrow range between $46.90 (2020) and $50.11 (2015). Thanks to the cumulative effect of President Biden's inflation, celebrating Thanksgiving with a traditional turkey dinner has never been more costly for Americans.

Thanksgiving 2022

If you missed it, last Friday kicked off Political Calculations' annual celebration of Thanksgiving, the most American of holidays! We'll continue focusing on turkeys and the holiday through the rest of the week!

References

American Farm Bureau Federation. Farm Bureau: Survey Shows Thanksgiving Dinner Cost Up 14%. [Online Article]. 17 November 2022.

American Farm Bureau Federation. Farm Bureau: Survey Shows Thanksgiving Dinner Cost Up 14%. [Online Article]. 18 November 2021.

American Farm Bureau Federation. Thanksgiving Dinner Cost Survey: 2022 Year to Year Prices. [PDF Document]. 17 November 2022.

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21 November 2022

The S&P 500 (Index: SPX) mostly drifted sideways to lower during the third trading week of November 2022. That's mainly because nothing happened to change the time horizon of investors, who maintained their forward-looking focus on the current quarter of 2022-Q4.

At least, that's how we're reading the latest update to the alternative futures chart.

Alternative Futures - S&P 500 - 2022Q4 - Standard Model (m=+2.0 from 13 September 2022) - Snapshot on 18 Nov 2022

We think the drifting lower part of the S&P 500's movement is related to dissipating noise from the previous week. Otherwise, the news of the week indicates what the Fed will be doing with interest rates, and more importantly, what they say they're going to be doing with interest rates in 2023 at its upcoming December 2022 meetings is holding investor attention on 2022-Q4.

Here are the market moving headlines from the trading week ending on Friday, 18 November 2022.

Monday, 14 November 2022
Tuesday, 15 November 2022
Wednesday, 16 November 2022
Thursday, 17 November 2022
Friday, 18 November 2022

The CME Group's FedWatch Tool continues to project a half point rate hike on tap for 14 December (2022-Q4). But in 2023-Q1, the FedWatch tool now projects a half point rate hike in February and a quarter point rate hike in March (2023-Q1), with the Federal Funds Rate reaching a peak target range of 5.00-5.25%. Looking further forward, the FedWatch tool still anticipates two quarter point rate cuts in 2023-Q4 (November and December) as the Fed is forced to go into reverse after developing recessionary conditions take hold in the U.S. economy.

The Atlanta Fed's GDPNow tool's projection for real GDP growth in 2022-Q4 rose to +4.2% from last week's +4.0% estimate. There continues to be a big gap between its forecast and the so-called "Blue Chip consensus" that continues to predict near zero growth in 2022-Q4.

With the Thanksgiving holiday later this week, we're not expecting much to happen with stock prices. As such, we're switching the rest of our week's analysis over to resume our annual Thanksgiving celebration, where we'll pick up with the next regular edition of the S&P 500 chaos series on Monday, 28 November 2022.

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