Thanksgiving is just around the corner. That means it's time to check out the poultry case en route to picking our Turkey of the Year. The finalists:

The "Nuts And Dolts" award goes to Neuticles, the makers of FDA-approved artificial testicles for dogs, cats and "bulls." More than 36,000 neutered animals, mostly dogs, are today back to walking with a proud swagger. That's thanks to new artificial testicles in three pooch-pleasing sizes. Pet owners, most of them guilty about neutering their pets, have paid hundreds of dollars to have their animals "retooled" to make them look more "natural."

But Gregg Miller, the inventor of Neuticles, says the company reached a milestone in February when a man bought a pair of Neuticles (5-in.-high by 2 11/42-in.-wide) for his "bull." Does this mean some rancher out there now has a bull sporting a four-pack, or does he just have a "natural" beef steer?

The "Man of conviction?" award goes to Vice President Al Gore. In his 1992 manifesto "Earth In The Balance," Gore wrote that the internal combustion engine was "a mortal threat to the security of every nation." He advocated fuel price and fuel tax increases as two steps to drastically cut gasoline usage.

Yet, trailing in his race for U.S. president, Gore successfully pushed President Clinton to release the nation's strategic petroleum reserves, apparently to quiet voter ire over rising fuel prices.

The "How about using Hitler's skull?" award. A recent People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) campaign is using Jesus Christ as its "poster boy," arguing that he was a vegetarian. A recent PETA ad shows the Shroud of Turin, which some believe is the burial cloth of Christ, with the wording "Make a lasting impression - go vegetarian!"

It's uncertain that Jesus was indeed a vegetarian. What is certain, however, is that the Son of God is a better choice than history's most famous vegetarian, Adolf Hitler. Perhaps PETA can make a deal with Russia, the current residence of Hitler's charred remains.

The "Hey, who moved my cheese?" award goes to the Livestock Marketing Association (LMA). This livestock auction group largely sat on its hands while the industry evolved to more progressive marketing methods. Finding itself becoming irrelevant, LMA fashioned a referendum campaign to kill the beef checkoff.

Late in 1999, LMA submitted the required signatures to USDA, but concerns over the gathering methods and authenticity of some signatures have abounded. Possibly nervous over the signature verification process in progress, LMA in October called for Ag Secretary Dan Glickman to end signature validation and order a referendum. Never mind that the Beef Act and Order apparently doesn't accord the Secretary that discretion.

The "Best argument against federal government expansion" award goes to, who else, the federal government.

Earlier this year, we learned the Department of Education couldn't account for $100 million of taxpayer money. In fact, an accounting firm said it couldn't even do an audit because the books were a disaster.

Then in October came news that USDA's cash balance with the U.S. Treasury was off by $5 billion. Interestingly, USDA's inspector general found the agency had valued an automobile on its books for $97 million and a microscope for $11 million. They also diverted soil conservation funds to pay Los Angeles kids to paint murals, some of them on private buildings.

How to fix the problem? USDA asked Congress for another $100 million to buy new computers so they could better account for property and their books.

And, the winner is LMA! For the first time in decades, beef demand is trending up, even outpacing chicken. When the industry should be focused on building still more growth, it's dogged by LMA gnawing on its leg.