Entries in Animal Cruelty (5)


Butterball Farm Worker Guilty of Animal Cruelty

Mercy for Animals(GARNER, N.C.) -- A worker caught on undercover video abusing turkeys at a Butterball factory farm in North Carolina pled guilty Tuesday to felonious cruelty to animals.

Brian Douglas was one of six workers facing charges after undercover video shot by the animal rights group Mercy for Animals and published on the Blotter revealed alleged abuse. An MFA activist had worked undercover at the farm for three weeks and documented what the group called "acts of violence and severe neglect." In the video, workers can be seen kicking and stomping on turkeys, as well as dragging them by their wings and necks.

Hoke County detectives raided the farm on Dec. 28 after seeing the video. During the raid, officials inspected 2,800 turkeys, seizing 28 and euthanizing four.

Douglas will serve 30 days in jail, followed by 42 months of probation. Four other workers were also charged with cruelty to animals, and their cases are pending.

Earlier this year, Dr. Sarah Mason, a veterinarian at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, was suspended from her job and sentenced to 45 days in the Hoke County jail after pleading guilty to obstructing justice and obstructing a public officer. Mason admitted calling a friend who worked at Butterball prior to the December raid. Her sentence was suspended and she will be on unsupervised probation, but she will be required to take two ethics courses.

Officials charged that Dr. Mason, the director of Animal Health Programs at the Agriculture Department, had called a Butterball veterinarian on Dec. 23 and allegedly informed him that there was an investigation into the farm. Details of the pending raid, according to prosecutors at the Hoke County District Attorney's office, were supposed to be "treated as confidential, and should not be disclosed."

Though she initially told authorities she had not talked to the Butterball employee, Dr. Mason later admitted telling him about the existence of the Mercy for Animals video showing alleged abuse, and telling him that the video had been given to a county prosecutor.

After conducting an internal investigation, officials at the Agriculture Department suspended Dr. Mason for two weeks without pay. "The Department ... found that Dr. Mason did not at first answer truthfully when she was interviewed on Jan. 5, 2012 by Hoke County authorities about a leak of information about their investigation," said the Agriculture Department in a statement. "We were aware that charges could be brought against Dr. Mason as a result of her actions."

But the department's statement also said that Dr. Mason had not explicitly told anyone at Butterball that there was a criminal investigation in progress, "nor was she aware or did she tell anyone that there was going to be a search warrant served at any of their facilities."

In a statement issued through her attorney, Dr. Mason said her rationale for contacting the Butterball veterinarian -- a longtime personal friend -- was to "immediately curtail" any animal abuse taking place. In addition, Mason stated, "I deeply regret the actions I have taken have reflected poorly on the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services." She stated she recognized the "seriousness of the situation."

Mercy for Animals said there had been no insider information about abuse at the facility before the undercover tape was made. "Unfortunately, every time we send an investigator they emerge with shocking evidence of animal abuse," said MFA executive director Nathan Runkle.

"Butterball allowed a culture of cruelty and abuse to fester at its company-owned factory farms," alleged Runkle. "Before ending up in restaurants and grocery stores, turkeys killed for Butterball are routinely crowded into filthy warehouses, neglected to die from infected, bloody wounds, and thrown, kicked, and beaten by factory farm workers."

Butterball, which accounts for 20 percent of total turkey production in the U.S., has said it was "shocked" by the undercover video, is taking the animal cruelty investigation seriously, and has a "zero tolerance policy for any mistreatment of our birds." The company said that as a result of an internal investigation, it is evaluating its animal welfare policies, and has fired "several associates for failure to follow Butterball animal care and well-being policies."

"We are taking steps to help ensure that all new and existing associates have a clear understanding of our animal well-being policies," said Rod Brenneman, president and CEO of Butterball. "In addition to requiring all associates to sign an animal well-being agreement to report abuse immediately, we are performing an intense review across all company operations."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pennsylvania Egg Factory Accused of Animal Cruelty, Filth

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- An animal rights group claimed on Thursday that an undercover investigation has revealed "extreme animal abuse" and unsanitary conditions at a major regional egg supplier.

The Humane Society of the United States said in a statement its investigation into the Pennsylvania-based Kreider Farms facilities uncovered "injured and dead hens, including mummified bird carcasses" living inside the same cages as live hens who lay eggs for human consumption, as well as chickens who had their heads, legs or wings trapped in cage wires and feeding machinery.

Undercover video allegedly shot at Kreider Farms and provided by the Humane Society appears to show birds lying dead among the crowded cages of live chickens.

A previous investigation by ABC News into another egg-producing farm company, Sparboe Farms, revealed such unsanitary conditions that major customers, including McDonald's and Target, dropped Sparboe as their supplier.

The Humane Society said Kreider Farms, headquartered in southeast Pennsylvania, is home to close to seven million egg-laying hens.  On its website, Kreider Farms says that number is closer to five million and says the farms are dedicated to being "stewards of the land, operating clean, efficient and state-of-the-art facilities and creating a work environment of openness, honesty, trust, and personal satisfaction." 

The Humane Society estimates there are a total of 280 million egg-laying hens in the United States.

The family-owned company has been the recipient of the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association's Excellence in Food Safety award, according to its website.

Videos available on the website show what appear to be much cleaner conditions for the hens compared to the undercover footage and claim, contrary to the Humane Society report, that the chickens have plenty of room to stretch out in their cages.

A spokesperson for Kreider Farms did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this report, but the company's president, Ron Kreider, told The New York Times the Humane Society report was a "gross distortion of Kreider Farms."

"The reality of food processing can be off-putting to those not familiar with animal agriculture," Kreider told The Times.  "When dealing with millions of birds, there is always a small percentage of dead birds." ´╗┐

UPDATE: Click here to read Kreider Farms' statement on the Humane Society's allegations.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Butterball Turkey Raided Amid Animal Abuse Allegations

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(GARNER, N.C.) -- Acting on allegations of "repeated violations" of animal cruelty, officials in North Carolina raided a Butterball turkey facility Thursday morning.

The raid was spurred by a confidential complaint filed with the Hoke County District Attorney earlier this month which was obtained by ABC News. The animal rights group Mercy for Animals details conditions captured on hidden camera video by an activist who worked undercover at the Butterball facility for three weeks, ending in mid-December. The group says the activist witnessed, "an ongoing pattern of cruelty to the turkeys" which included Butterball employees intentionally committing, "acts of violence and severe neglect."

Butterball is the largest turkey producer in the U.S. and accounts for 20 percent of total turkey production in the country, according to its website.

Mercy for Animals, known for its undercover investigations of factory farms that utilize animals, cited North Carolina law in its complaint, in which "malicious" animal abuse can be found a felony.

In the hidden camera video, workers can be seen kicking and stomping on turkeys, as well as dragging them by their wings and necks. The video also shows injured birds with open wounds and exposed flesh.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio´╗┐


Animal Rights Group Accuses Sparboe Farms of False Advertising

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Sparboe Farms, the embattled egg producer featured in a scathing recent ABC News investigative report, has been accused of false advertising by the animal rights group that captured video of alleged animal abuse at the company's factory-style egg farms.

Mercy for Animals has filed a petition with the Federal Trade Commission, asking the agency to investigate allegedly false claims made by Sparboe. The rights group says while the nation's fifth largest egg producer says its hens receive "five essential freedoms" to ensure their welfare, the company doesn't actually provide those freedoms. The group says Sparboe is misleading consumers who buy its eggs.

On the Sparboe Farms website, the "Animal Care Code of Conduct" states that the company's hens won't suffer from hunger, thirst or pain. It also says that Sparboe hens have "freedom to express normal behavior" and "freedom from fear and distress."

In the FTC complaint, Mercy for Animals calls these claims "blatantly false" and points to the hidden camera video taken by an undercover operative in the company's egg farms over a three-month period. The video, which showed animal abuse and unsanitary conditions at facilities in three states, first aired as part of the ABC News investigation. After learning of the results of the ABC News investigation, major Sparboe customers, including McDonald's and Target, severed their ties with the egg producer.

Mercy for Animals says Sparboe has given consumers a false picture of the procedures at its egg farms, claiming Sparboe has "company-wide, top-down policies aimed at maximizing profits at the expense of the health and welfare of the hens and chickens."

Sparboe did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Mercy for Animals complaint.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


McDonald's Dumps McMuffin Egg Factory over Health Concerns

Tim Boyle/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- McDonald's will be looking for a new source of eggs for many of its hugely popular Egg McMuffins.

The fast food company says it "will no longer accept" eggs from one of the country's biggest egg companies, Sparboe Farms.  The egg producer is the subject of an ABC News investigation to be broadcast Friday on 20/20 and World News with Diane Sawyer, and was cited Thursday by the Food and Drug Administration for "significant…and serious violations" in the production of eggs.

In one of the most forceful enforcement actions since last year's salmonella egg outbreak, the FDA issued a company-wide warning letter to Sparboe Farms, the country's fifth-largest egg producer.  Citing "serious" and "significant violations" at five different locations, the FDA noted at least 13 violations of the recently-enacted federal egg rule meant to prevent dangerous salmonella outbreaks.

"This is a warning that there is a systemic problem, not just at one barn or one location," said former FDA food safety chief David Acheson, now an industry consultant.

The ABC News broadcast will include undercover video taken over the summer inside Sparboe facilities in three states by an animal rights group, Mercy for Animals.  The footage appears to show unsanitary conditions and repeated acts of animal cruelty.

Until Friday, the Sparboe facility in Vincent, Iowa had produced all eggs used by McDonald's restaurants west of the Mississippi River.  In its statement, McDonald's said its decision to discontinue its relationship with Sparboe was based on concerns about "the management of Sparboe facilities."

"McDonald's expects all of our suppliers to meet our stringent requirements for delivering high quality food prepared in a humane and responsible manner," the company said in a statement released overnight to ABC News.

The Mercy for Animals activist who went undercover to record the video inside Sparboe told ABC News chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross, "I saw workers do horrendous things to birds, they were thrown, grabbed by the neck, they're slammed in and out of cages."

Nathan Runkle, the executive director of Mercy for Animals, said the video shows how health hazards can be linked to large-scale, low-cost egg producers, so-called "factory farms."

"They're the model of efficiency but they place an emphasis on profit over animal welfare," said Runkle, who says he and his members eat no animal products because of the animal cruelty they have seen.

Sparboe executives told Ross the employees seen on the tape abusing the chickens were all fired.

"We have a zero tolerance policy," said Ken Klippen, Sparboe's director of government relations.  "People who violate that policy, we take that very seriously."

On a one-hour guided tour of the Sparboe facility in Vincent, Iowa, the source of all McDonald's eggs for restaurants west of the Mississippi, Klippen told Ross the Sparboe's facilities are "state of the art.

Sparboe has never had a single egg or chicken detected with salmonella, said Klippen, who added "there was no cause for any enforcement action."

A 2010 salmonella outbreak in the U.S. affected more than 1,900 people and was traced to a different Iowa egg producer, Wright County Eggs.  More than a half-billion eggs had to be destroyed, and the episode produced a nationwide health scare over the safety of eggs.

Salmonella in eggs is easily killed when both the white and the yolk are cooked until they are hard.  Many of those sickened last year ate custard at a California catering hall that used eggs from Wright County Eggs.

Since that outbreak, federal authorities promised stepped-up inspections and enforcement, and FDA officials said this week's action against Sparboe Farms was part of that effort.

McDonald's says its customers should have no health concerns because all of it eggs are thoroughly cooked before being sold.

"This is not a food safety issue for our menu items," McDonald's said in its statement.  "We can assure our customers that eggs in our entire supply chain meet McDonald's high standards for quality and safety."

As to the allegations of animal cruelty, a spokesperson said the behavior seen on videos provided by 20/20 was "disturbing and completely unacceptable."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio