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Law Enforcement Raids Butterball Turkey Farm After Undercover Investigation

Undercover video captures shocking cruelty

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A Butterball turkey

A Butterball turkey.

Photo courtesy of Mercy for Animals
Updated April 11, 2013

Update: A North Carolina Department of Agriculture employee who tipped off Butterball before the raid pled guilty to obstruction of justice and resisting, delaying or obstructing officers in February, 2012. As of April of 2013, three Butterball employees - Ronnie Jacobs, Brian Douglas and Rueben Mendoza - have pleaded guilty to criminal animal cruelty. Two others - Terry Johnson and Billy McBride - were found guilty after a bench trial.

Based on Mercy for Animals' undercover video of shocking animal cruelty, state law enforcement officers have obtained a warrant and raided a Butterball turkey facility in Shannon, North Carolina. In November and December of 2011, the undercover investigators filmed workers kicking, dragging, throwing and beating the turkeys, including those who were apparently lame, sick, dying and dead. Authorities are considering animal cruelty charges against the workers involved. At right is an actual photo from MFA's undercover investigation at the Shannon, NC Butterball facilty.

According to MFA, the video depicts:

  • 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.

According to Butterball's press release on this issue, the company "is the largest producer of turkey products in the United States" and "produces 1 billion pounds of turkey each year."

While such undercover videos tend to result in calls to end factory farming, the truth is that animals suffer even on "humane" farms. The terms "humane farming" and "humane meat" are not legally defined and are considered by many animal rights activists to be an oxymoron. No matter how well the animal is treated before slaughter, slaughtering them for food cannot be considered humane. The animal rights position is that humans do not have a right to breed, buy, sell, or slaughter other animals.

The investigation and raid took place at a Butterball semen collection facility, because domestic turkeys can reproduce only through artificial insemination. In addition to the cruelty inherent in confining and slaughtering turkeys, the breeding process has led to an animal who, unlike his wild cousins, is so large, he cannot mate naturally. Also as a result of their enormous size, domestic turkeys usually live no longer than a year or two. Animal rights activists would argue that it is not the turkey who needs to be pardoned on Thanksgiving Day.

Butterball's response is that they are cooperating with the investigation, and have a "zero tolerance policy" for cruelty to the birds. The company also claims that they "are committed to the highest standards to ensure that all turkeys processed for consumption are treated in a humane manner." Why did they specify "turkeys processed for consumption? Was it because the turkeys at this facility are not being raised for human compsumption, but for their semen?

What is the solution?

As law enforcement authorities investigate the facility, some turkeys may be euthanized, and others may go to foster homes or rescue groups, such as Carolina Waterfowl Rescue, which states that it is not an animal rights group, but tells the public, "animals in factory farms suffer even in what's considered industry standard acceptable conditions. If you want to help animals like the ones you see on the videos consider a local humane meat grower or go vegetarian."

Mercy for Animals goes a step farther than CWR, and urges the public to go vegan.

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