(MENAFN - AFP) President Barack Obama was poised Wednesday to "pardon" two turkeys ahead of the annual Thanksgiving holiday during which Americans will consume millions of their feathery compatriots.
Obama, just back from a tour of Asia, will reprieve the lucky birds -- Cobbler and understudy Gobbler -- during an early afternoon ceremony at the White House Rose Garden. Both are 19 weeks old and weigh 40 pounds (18 kilos).
Instead of ending up on the dinner table, the duo will live out their days in a custom-made enclosure on George Washington's estate in Mount Vernon, Virginia, the White House said.
Their names were chosen from submissions by elementary schools and, for the first time this year, the US public was able to pick which of the two would become the "2012 National Thanksgiving Turkey" by casting a vote on the White House Facebook page.
The annual tradition dates back to former president John F. Kennedy.
Thanksgiving was first celebrated by pilgrims who fled religious persecution in England. For many Americans, it has become a family-oriented day marked with an extensive meal that centers around a turkey, pies and a slew of side dishes.
Wednesday's pardon takes place amid criticism from animal rights group PETA, which urged Obama not to maintain the tradition.
"It makes light of the mass slaughter of some 46 million gentle, intelligent birds and portrays the United States' president as being in some sort of business partnership with the turkey-killing industry," it said in a letter.
"Turkeys do not need to be 'pardoned.' They are not guilty of anything other than being born into a world of prejudice."
As in years past since 2009, the president and his family will do some community service on Wednesday afternoon before celebrating the holiday on Thursday without any official engagements.