Butterball: Busted Again for Turkey Cruelty

Rampant abuse at Butterball turkey factory farms is caught on video by Mercy for Animals for the second year running.
Turkeys grown at Butterball facilities suffer horrific animal abuse and painful injuries. (Bloomberg/Getty Images)
Nov 16, 2012
Megan Bedard is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.

Could you enjoy your Thanksgiving turkey if you knew that the bird was treated inhumanely? Executives at Butterball are hoping so, as a new video has surfaced of turkey abuse in five of their facilities.

Just a year after undercover footage by animal rights organization Mercy for Animals (MFA) documented abuse at a Butterball turkey facility, a new video has been released showing almost identical inhumane practices. Again recorded by undercover investigators from MFA, the footage, filmed October of this year, shows workers kicking birds and violently throwing them into metal transportation cages. Turkeys with broken legs are left untended on the factory floors.

Last year, after a tip-off from MFA, state authorities raided Butterball facilities in North Carolina, arresting employees and charging them with criminal cruelty to animals. However, despite that victory, the industry is still rife with abuse.

"Every time our investigators go under cover at these facilities, they document abuses that shock and horrify most people, which makes us believe that these types of abuses do run rampant on factory farms across the country," Matt Rice, director of investigations at Mercy for Animals, tells TakePart. MFA has conducted more than 20 undercover investigations at factory farms across the country in the last four years.

"Unfortunately, there are very few laws protecting animals," Rice says. He explains that no federal laws protect animals during their lives on factory farms, and most states specifically exclude farm animals from almost all legal protection. As a result, "factory farmers are able to get away with treating millions of cows, pigs, and chickens in ways that would warrant felony-level cruelty charges in most states if even one dog or cat were the victim instead."

Last year, Grist.org writer Erik Marcus speculated that Butterball would foist the blame for the documented abuses on low-level employees, and he was right: In a public statement, Butterball called the health and well-being of their birds "a number one priority" and announced the termination of the employees who abused birds on video, without claiming responsibility.

But that kind of dodge tactic won't work with MFA, who thinks that Butterball should be held criminally accountable for ongoing abuse of the animals on company-owned factory farms. "We’re calling on law enforcement to press charges against Butterball and the workers involved in this abuse," Rice says.

In the meantime, consumers can help by making conscientious choices.

"We believe that people have a right to know where their food comes from so that they can make informed choices, so the first step is awareness and making people aware of how these animals are treated on factory farms," says Rice. "The next thing—the most powerful thing people can do to make sure they’re not supporting the needless suffering of animals on factory farms—is to choose healthy alternatives to factory farm meat, either reducing their meat consumption or going vegetarian." 

Need some help? Opt out of the industrial food system with TakePart's Thanksgiving guide to kind food choices

Related Stories on TakePart:

• Cruelty Brought to You by Butterball

• 7 Shocking Facts About Your Thanksgiving Turkey

• Food, Inc. Chicken Farms Goes Rogue — Says Goodbye to Factory Farms

• My Story: Is It Possible to Avoid Factory Farmed Meat?

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