Mercy for Animals (MFA) is well known for its undercover investigations of animal abuse and cruelty at factory farms. For three weeks between November and December 2011, an undercover investigator filmed egregious acts of cruelty and abuse of turkeys at a Butterball semen collection farm in Shannon, North Carolina.
Domestic turkeys bred for human consumption are genetically engineered to grow so large and so fast they cannot reproduce normally; hence, the semen farms. This biological manipulation also results in bone and joint deformities as well as fatal heart attacks.
Wild turkeys are agile; they can fly and partake in normal turkey behaviors like frolicking, leg stretching and dust-bathing. Butterball turkeys can’t — even if they were allotted the space to do so.
“Turkeys are fully capable of feeling pain, fear, stress and of suffering, and the way they are treated in the video is clearly abusive,” said Dr. Sara Shields, research scientist, poultry specialist and consultant in animal welfare. Care2 blogger Mac McDaniel wrote about a study that found chickens can feel empathy. Surely, that finding can be extrapolated to turkeys.
MFA filed a formal complaint with Hoke County District Attorney against Butterball resulting in a warrant and raid that occurred on Thursday, December 29 at the Butterball facility in Shannon. The complaint cited North Carolina law allowing animal abuse to be prosecuted as a felony.
“The [North Carolina] anti-cruelty statute provides that if any person shall maliciously kill, or cause or procure to be killed, any animal by intentional deprivation of necessary sustenance, that person shall be guilty of a Class H felony. If any person shall maliciously torture, mutilate, maim, cruelly beat, disfigure, poison, or kill, or cause or procure to be tortured, mutilated, maimed, cruelly beaten, disfigured, poisoned, or killed, any animal, every such offender shall for every such offense be guilty of a Class H felony.”
MFA Undercover Video at Butterball Disclosed:
“Workers violently kicking and stomping on birds, dragging them by their fragile wings and necks, and maliciously throwing turkeys onto the ground or into transport trucks in full view of company management;
“Employees bashing in the heads of live birds with metal bars, leaving many to slowly suffer and die from their injuries;
“Turkeys covered in flies, living in their own waste, with some unable to access food or water and suffering from severe feather loss
“Birds suffering from serious untreated illnesses and injuries, including open sores, infections, rotting eyes, and broken bones; and
“Severely injured turkeys, unable to stand up or walk, left to die without any veterinary care, because treating sick or injured birds was too costly and time consuming, as the farm manager explained to MFA’s investigator.”
Statement by Butterball
“We are currently working with Hoke County government officials regarding allegations of animal cruelty at a farm in North Carolina.” It goes on to claim that “Butterball has a zero tolerance policy for any mistreatment of our birds or the failure to immediately report mistreatment of our birds by any associates.”
Other MFA Investigations and Results
- Sparboe Farms: 2011- Fifth largest egg producer in U.S.; MFA investigation resulted in McDonald’s, Target, Sam’s Club and Supervalu discontinuing contract with Sparboe
- Iowa Select: 2011 – Iowa’s largest pig factory farm; raised massive awareness of cruelty inherent in how pigs are raised and killed for food in U.S.
- E6 Cattle Co.: 2011 – Texas dairy farm bludgeoning of calves; caused price drop of live cattle and prevented Ag Gag bills from passing
- Catfish Corner: 2010 – Texas fish factory farm documented cutting, slicing, skinning, suffocating and dismembering live and fully conscious catfish; MFA contacted all Texas House and Senate members and introduced bills to outlaw “skinning and dismembering of all live, conscious animals” during the 2011 legislative session
- Buckeye Veal Farm: 2010 – Ohio veal crate and chain methods revealed; Costco adopted policy against using this type of veal production
- Conklin Dairy Farms: 2010 Ohio dairy farm exposed with abject cruelty; farm worker convicted on six counts of animal cruelty and numerous dairy suppliers ended relationship with Conklin
But the investigation at Butterball is significant because the brand name is so well known. Butterball produces more than one billion pounds of turkey annually and has 20% of the U.S. market. John Kivett of the Hoke County sheriff’s office told CNN “No one has been taken into custody. It’s still an ongoing investigation. Nothing has been seized.”
He added “The doctors are checking each bird to see if there are any injuries or sickness in the bird or anything they can visually see,” says Kivett. “They’re doing inspections of each bird and then my investigators are in there documenting any injuries or maltreatment to the animals.” All 2,800 turkeys will be inspected for signs of abuse.
Big Ag Circles the Wagons Against Activists
Photos of Butterball Factory Farm by Mercy for Animals