An animal rights group has released graphic video that appears to show the mistreatment of chickens by Tyson Foods employees in Virginia, leading to at least two Animal Control investigations.
Compassion Over Killing, a Washington-based animal-advocacy organization, said the video was taken by an undercover investigator for the group in May and June at four facilities where Tyson employees process chickens. The video depicts Tyson employees throwing, punching and kicking chickens as well as sticking plastic rods through their beaks in a process known as "boning."
Workers also wrung birds' necks, ran over them with forklifts and left injured birds in "dead piles," as the video's narrator put it, to die.
One worker, discussing standing on a chicken's head and letting it suffocate, mentioned that the behavior would look bad if caught on tape.
"You can't let nobody see you do that," the man said, describing the act as "inhumane." "A stranger ... you don't know if he's working for the Animal Rights."
Compassion Over Killing, which says it "focuses on cruelty to animals in agriculture and promotes vegetarian eating," has undertaken undercover investigations before. On Wednesday, it condemned the workers' behavior.
"This level of violence and abuse is so egregious, it violates Virginia state animal protection laws," Erica Meier, the organization's executive director, said in a statement. "The company should be held accountable — and consumers deserve to know the truth about the horrors inflicted upon these animals." She added: "Tyson, the titan of this industry, is literally crushing the life out of birds."
Two of the facilities shown in the video are in Virginia's Mecklenburg County, one is in Buckingham County and one is in Lunenburg County. Animal Control officials in Mecklenburg and Buckingham counties confirmed that they were investigating the allegations but said they couldn't comment further. An Animal Control official in Lunenburg County did not return a request for comment on Wednesday.
In a statement, Tyson, the largest chicken-processing company in the United States, called the behavior "inexcusable" and said that it fired 10 people who were members of the crew depicted in the video.
The company also said it discontinued the process of "boning" — which it described as "a historical way the industry has used to keep males from eating food intended for females" — at two of the facilities in the video after its release. The process already had been ended at the other two facilities.
"I'm disgusted and outraged by what's shown in this video," Christine Daugherty, vice president of sustainable food production for Tyson Foods, said in a statement. "We do not tolerate animal abuse. ... The people shown in the video by Compassion Over Killing were all trained in proper animal handling, yet chose to ignore it and failed to alert management about the despicable treatment on these farms."
Daugherty added: "Animals in our care deserve to be treated humanely."
The Compassion Over Killing employee who filmed the video while working for Tyson said the company's processing facilities are part of a system that desensitizes people to suffering.
"They are not building a system to ensure animal welfare is a top priority. Or employee welfare," said the worker, who asked to remain anonymous.
News of the mistreatment comes weeks after Perdue, the nation's third-largest chicken producer, announced plans to kill chickens using carbon dioxide or argon gas — a method some hailed as more humane.
Compassion Over Killing questioned whether there is any way to humanely kill and eat animals.
"The best way we can protect chickens and all animals is simply to leave them off our plates," the video's narrator says.