2011 Mercy For Animals Investigation at Butterball Turkey

Update 9-1-2012: MFA's undercover investigation into a Butterball turkey factory farm has led to felony and misdemeanor animal cruelty charges against five Butterball employees by state authorities. Additionally, Dr. Sarah Jean Mason, the director of Animal Health Programs with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, has pled guilty to obstruction of justice charges after admitting to leaking confidential information to Butterball and potentially compromising the criminal cruelty investigation by state law enforcement officials.

On August 28, 2012, Butterball worker Brian Douglas pled guilty to felonious cruelty to animals—a class H felony in North Carolina. This is believed to be the first-ever felony cruelty to animals conviction related to birds used for food production in US history. A few days later, Ruben Mendoza pled guilty to misdemeanor cruelty to animals. Cases against the other three Butterball workers are still pending.

Between November and December of 2011, an MFA undercover investigator documented a pattern of shocking abuse and neglect at a Butterball turkey semen collection facility in Shannon, North Carolina.

Hidden-camera footage taken at Butterball reveals:

  • 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.

After viewing the undercover footage, Dr. Sara Shields, research scientist, poultry specialist and consultant in animal welfare, said, "Turkeys are fully capable of feeling pain, fear, stress and of suffering, and the way they are treated in the video is clearly abusive."

Dr. Debra Teachout, a practicing veterinarian with experience in farmed-animal welfare, agrees, stating, "The birds are not living a life remotely worth living. Their world is full of fear, distress, pain, injury and illness as witnessed by this video. A culture of blatant and severe animal mistreatment has been allowed to flourish unchecked, and for that reason, this facility should be shut down immediately."

Following the investigation, MFA immediately went to law enforcement with extensive video footage and a detailed legal complaint outlining the routine violence and cruelty documented by the investigator at this Butterball facility. On Thursday, December 29, state law enforcement officials obtained a warrant and raided the facility on grounds of cruelty to animals.

Unfortunately, the lives of turkeys in Butterball's factory farms are short, brutal and filled with fear, violence and prolonged suffering. While wild turkeys are sleek, agile and able to fly, Butterball's turkeys have been selectively bred to grow so large, so quickly, that many of them suffer from painful bone defects, hip joint lesions, crippling foot and leg deformities, and fatal heart attacks.

This genetic manipulation creates birds that are so large they cannot even reproduce naturally, meaning that artificial semen collection and insemination have become the sole means of turkey reproduction at Butterball facilities.

Even though domestic turkeys have been genetically manipulated for enormous growth, these birds still retain their gentle, inquisitive and social natures. Oregon State University poultry scientist Dr. Tom Savage says that turkeys are "smart animals with personality and character, and keen awareness of their surroundings." In fact, animal behaviorists, veterinarians, and scientists now agree that turkeys are sensitive and intelligent animals with their own unique personalities, much like the dogs and cats we all know and love.

While MFA works to expose and end animal abuse at Butterball and other giants of the meat, dairy and egg industry, consumers can help prevent the needless suffering of turkeys and other animals by adopting a compassionate vegan diet.

More information on the 2011 investigation of Butterball:

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