Cruelty Brought to You by Butterball

Undercover videos of abuse at turkey facility prompt raid.
Mercy for Animals unveils animal abuse at a Butterball facility in North Carolina. (Mercy for Animals)
Dec 30, 2011
Megan Bedard is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.

Shape up or ship out, Butterball. 

That's the message sent to a Butterball turkey-raising facility in Shannon, North Carolina yesterday morning as county sheriffs raided the facility grounds for evidence of animal abuse on a tip from animal rights organization Mercy For Animals (MFA).

Just days after the greatest turkey consumption period of the year in the U.S., MFA released gruesome footage of animal abuse at the facility. In the video, birds with festering sores, crippled feet, and missing feathers appear in grainy black and white footage. Facility workers kick, throw, and stomp on the animals, and drag them around the facility by their necks. (See the full video here. Be warned that images are graphic.)

Videos were filmed undercover throughout November and December before Mercy for Animals sent the footage to law enforcement with a legal complaint against Butterball. The organization is also responsible for the very public videos that shamed McDonald's supplier, Sparboe Farms, last month and prompted Mickey D's to drop the company like a bad egg.

So will Butterball take action, too? writer Erik Marcus speculates that we can expect a lot of finger pointing at low-level employees, while Butterball sidesteps criticism. A company with as wide of a reach as Butterball is not likely to go down easy. Marcus reports the company has "the brand power of Budweiser, Miller, and Coors combined," because it produces 1 billion pounds of turkey every year, exporting the meat to more than 50 countries. 

Sounds like he's on the mark. The company released a statement denying knowledge of the abuse. 

At Butterball, LLC, our number one priority is to provide for the health and well being of our birds in order to produce safe and nutritious product for consumers. Butterball takes these allegations very seriously and fully supports the efforts being made on the part of officials… Employees found in violation of Butterball's animal welfare policies will be subject to immediate termination.

Time will tell whether Butterball will suffer legal repercussions, but the scandal has raised some serious questions about the company's ethics. 

Nathan Runkle, Executive Director for Mercy for Animals, says consumers deserve transparency about the companies they patronize." Butterball is guilty of extreme animal abuse and should be held criminally accountable," he told ABC News. "As a civilized society it's our moral obligation to prevent cruelty to animals, including to those raised for food... Consumers have a right to know the cruel reality behind Butterball turkey."

MFA's video ends by urging viewers to make the change to a vegetarian diet. That's one solution, but let's not forget the farmers who do raise animals humanely. If you have to buy a turkey, skip Butterball, and seek out one that's humanely raised. Find it here.


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