Gobble, Gobble . . . Maybe Not
By Alex Distefano
This Thanksgiving, as millions of families gather to celebrate with a traditional turkey dinner with all the fixins’, one Los Angeles-based animal rights group wants everyone to stop and think about where that dinner came from, and perhaps wonder aloud how it was treated before it ended up on our holiday table.
If you bought a Butterball turkey this year, the nonprofit Mercy For Animals organization has something to say about that bird.
Dedicated to raising awareness about the inhumane treatment of slaughterhouse animals, Mercy For Animals recently released video footage allegedly showing Butterball—one of the nation’s leading producers of Thanksgiving birds, as well as lunch meats year-round—employees abusing turkeys. The footage appears to show employees at the company’s main processing facility and slaughterhouse in North Carolina allowing the birds to subsist in unsanitary conditions—or worse, deliberately torturing them.
“The worst part about this is that this is not the first time that Butterball has seen this type of criminal animal cruelty at their turkey farms,” Mercy For Animals director Matt Rice tells the Weekly. “And since the company is such a huge supplier of turkey to the entire country around the year, they literally produce one out of every three turkeys consumed each year for the holidays.”
Just less than a year ago, another undercover Mercy For Animals investigation into another Butterball turkey facility resulted in five workers being charged with criminal cruelty to animals.
“This is the second time in less than a year that we have documented—on video with our under cover investigators—workers at several different Butterball facilities kicking and stomping on birds, dragging them by their wings, throwing turkeys and leaving them to slowly suffer and die.”
Rice said that the recent video footage, taken from earlier this year by Mercy For Animals investigators working undercover as Butterball employees, shows turkeys suffering from serious, untreated illnesses and injuries, including open sores, infections and broken bones.
“This footage also shows workers brutally grabbing birds by their wings or necks and violently slamming them into tiny transport crates with no regard for their welfare, then leaving them with the wounds to die in pain, and kicking them into cages and stomping on their heads and necks repeatedly,” Rice says.
Butterball employees have yet to be charged as Mercy For Animals’ footage is still being reviewed by law enforcement agencies.
“Using the footage and detailed daily notes from the investigator, I worked with attorneys, veterinarians and animal welfare experts to draft criminal complaints against the workers at Butterball,” Rice says. “I then met with local law enforcement agencies in which we documented criminal cruelty to animals and presented them with a detailed legal complaint. Law enforcement is currently investigating the matter.”
Although no one from Butterball would go on the record for an interview, the Weekly did get a written statement via email from a company spokesperson.
“Butterball is aware of the video released by Mercy For Animals and we take any allegations of animal mistreatment very seriously,” the statement says. “As has been our longstanding policy, we have a zero tolerance policy for animal abuse. Any employee found to have violated our animal care and well-being guidelines, as well as any employee who witnessed abuse and failed to report it, will be terminated.”
This doesn’t go far enough, Rice says. Mercy For Animals has been running “Consumer Warning” commercials in major markets depicting Butterball’s alleged treatment of its turkeys in an effort to get people to think twice about their food source. Such commercials are slated to run through today.
So what’s the alternative? A turkey-free holiday dinner? Going vegan? Maybe.
“While some farms may treat animals better than others, slaughter is always a violent and gory process which can never be accurately described as humane,” Rice says. “Most ‘humane’ labels for animal-based food products are little more than marketing schemes designed to make consumers feel better about paying more money for some of the same types of cruelty and violence found at factory farm facilities. The best choice concerned people can make to ensure they are not supporting the needless suffering of animals is to simply stop eating them. Turkeys have the same capacity to experience pain and suffering. As a civilized society, it’s our moral obligation to ensure that animals are not tortured for food production, including turkeys.”