Animal activists claim turkeys abused at N.C. plants
Nov 14, 2012 (The News & Observer (Raleigh - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Less than a year after animal abuse was exposed at a Hoke County Butterball turkey farm, another undercover investigation shows identical practices at Butterball facilities in Onslow, Duplin, Sampson and Lenoir counties.
Mercy for Animals, the same group that uncovered the Hoke County abuse, released video evidence on Wednesday of workers at several farms stomping, kicking and throwing live turkeys.
The video, recorded last month, was obtained by an undercover investigator for MFA who worked for Butterball on a turkey loading crew. All of the farms on the video grow turkeys for Butterball.
Dr. Greg Burkett, an avian veterinarian at N.C. State University, reviewed the investigation footage and said the abuses are identical to the abuses discovered last year. Those abuses led to criminal cruelty charges and convictions.
"These behaviors are cruel, inhumane and injurious to the birds," Burkett said. "I am appalled at the disrespect these workers have toward the lives of other living creatures."
The undercover investigator also found turkeys living in dirty, crowded conditions and said some were left to die from untreated illnesses and injuries, including open sores, infections and broken bones.
Matt Rice, the director of investigations for Mercy for Animals, a Los Angeles-based animal welfare group, said the video and list of complaints were turned over to the Lenoir County Sheriff's Department, and to the district attorney offices in Duplin, Sampson and Onslow counties.
"They are investigating as we speak," said Rice.
In the Hoke County case, eight workers were charged with animal cruelty for mistreatment of turkeys. The case also resulted in charges against a doctor for the N.C. Department of Agriculture. In the December 2011 instance, the MFA group turned video over to Hoke County officials, who contacted the N.C. Department of Agriculture for advice on how to proceed. Dr. Sarah Jean Mason, an agriculture department employee, then called a Butterball veterinarian to warn them about the video. Mason pleaded guilty in February to impeding the investigation and making false statements to authorities.
Following the controversy at the Hoke County farm, Butterball released a statement saying they have "a zero tolerance policy for any mistreatment of our birds or the failure to immediately report mistreatment of our birds by any associates."
Butterball, based in Garner, is the nation's largest producer of turkeys.
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