Turkeys at the Butterball Turkey Slaughterhouse. Courtesy of
This Thanksgiving, 45 million turkeys will be slaughtered
and eaten. That’s one sixth of all turkeys sold in the U.S. each
million pounds of animal flesh in one day!
While most people think of turkeys as their Thanksgiving dinner centerpiece,
turkeys are extremely social and good-natured. Their personalities are as strong
and varied as cats and dogs, perhaps even a bit smarter. People may also not
be aware that turkeys raised for food are confined to grow-out sheds where they
are forced to stand on mounds of fecal waste and breathe in toxic ammonia fumes.
When only a few hours old hours old, a portion of their beaks and toes are severed
without the aid of anesthesia. Although birds constitute more than 98 percent
of land animals eaten in the U.S., the USDA refuses to list them in the only
federal law designed to protect animals at slaughter, the Humane Methods of Slaughter
This year PETA investigators worked undercover for 40 days as “live hangers”—people
who receive live birds and shackle them for slaughter—at a Butterball turkey
plant owned by ConAgra Foods in Ozark, Arkansas. Inside the slaughterhouse, investigators
witnessed and filmed some of the most atrocious acts of cruelty to animals. PETA
is currently calling for criminal cruelty-to-animals charges to be filed against
the employees and owner of Butterball.
Kymberlie Adams Matthews caught up with Matt Prescott, PETA’s Manager of
Factory Farming Campaigns to discuss Butterball cruelty.
Tell us about PETA’s undercover investigation
at the Butterball turkey slaughterhouse in Ozark, Arkansas. What conditions
PETA’s investigators witnessed Butterball workers punching and kicking
live birds, slamming them against metal transport crates and trailers, and throwing
them into concrete walls and floors. In one instance, a bird was slammed so hard
against a handrail that her spine popped out. Another time, a worker stomped
on a live turkey’s head until her skull exploded under his foot. One worker
even sexually abused a bird, inserting a finger into her cloaca (her vagina).
Aside from the sadistic acts of cruelty the workers would commit for “fun,” they
routinely hung birds improperly—by broken legs, one leg or by the head.
PETA’s investigators also discovered that management at this plant had
a flippant attitude about animal welfare. Unlike the procedures, forms and handbooks
for everything else, the content of the animal welfare form was not covered in
new employee training. Furthermore, employees who could not read or who could
not read well, were provided no assistance in understanding the form. Management
made comments about how “animal rights activists don’t like it when
you kick a turkey” and that “animals have more rights than people
now a days.” They also told workers not to worry if they hear a “popping” sound
while working, that’s “just” a bird exploding under the tire
of a truck.
What was your role in the investigation?
As the manager of PETA’s factory farming campaigns I was responsible for
pulling together the materials of the investigation such as the investigator’s
log notes, helping elicit statements from animal welfare experts, devising
a media plan, communicating with Butterball regarding their plan to take disciplinary
The behavior of the workers is appalling. Why do you think the workers treat
the animals this way?
Chicken and turkey slaughterhouses are dark, dismal places where underpaid
workers are forced to endure long hours lifting heavy, flapping birds into
Workers become frustrated and bored and take their frustration out on the birds
around them—those who are the most convenient victims and certainly can’t
Roughly how many turkeys are killed in that particular Butterball slaughterhouse?
Roughly 50,000 birds a day are processed at Butterball’s Ozark plant.
Do you think what you saw is representative of other slaughterhouse facilities?
Every time PETA enters a factory farm or slaughterhouse we find the routine
and sadistic abuse of animals. While employees at Butterball’s Ozark facility
clearly violated Arkansas law and need to be punished for it, their actions mimic
what we’ve found at many other plants nationwide.
One of our investigations at a Tyson slaughterhouse documented birds who were
maimed by killing machines, scalded alive and abused by workers. During an
investigation at a Pilgrim’s Pride slaughterhouse—which was KFC’s “Supplier
of the Year”—employees were documented tearing live birds’ heads
off, spitting tobacco into their eyes and spray painting their faces.
People need to understand that if they are eating animals, this is the type of
abuse they are supporting.
How is PETA moving forward with the evidence gathered in this investigation?
What do you hope to achieve?
Right now, the USDA chooses to exclude birds when enforcing the Humane Slaughter
Act. PETA is using this investigation to push the federal government toward
ensuring that birds are protected by the Act, and also using it to push the
toward controlled atmosphere killing (CAK). Top animal welfare experts like
doctors Temple Grandin, Mohan Raj and Ian Duncan—as well as humane organizations
like PETA and HSUS—all agree that CAK is the most humane method available
for slaughtering birds. With CAK, the birds are placed into a chamber, while
still in the transport crates they arrived in, where their oxygen is slowly
replaced with a mixture of inert gasses, thereby gently putting them to sleep.
workers never handle live birds with CAK, there is no chance of abuse and they
do not experience the pain associated with having their throats slit or being
defeathered in scalding-hot water while still concious.
This should not be confused with controlled atmosphere stunning (CAS) where
birds may “wake up” prior to slaughter.
Of course, PETA is also using this investigation to show the public that the
bird in the center of their table may have been punched, kicked or even sexually
abused before becoming a centerpiece. Right now, the USDA is investigating the
details of our investigation and local prosecutors are waiting to take action
until the USDA investigation is complete.
With Thanksgiving coming up, are there any campaigns or actions going on to drive
down turkey consumption?
PETA has been using video footage from this investigation, along with our “What’s
Wrong With Eating Turkeys?” leaflet to encourage people to cut out the
turkey from this Thanksgiving. People can visit our website to order leaflets,
videos, stickers and other fun materials to help get the word out that eating
animals supports sadistic abuse.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
PETA’s investigation has resulted in countless e-mails and phone calls
from people interested in becoming vegetarian. Slaughterhouses are dark places
hidden away from the public, and by bringing them into the light we are able
to show the horrors that animals killed for food endure. Visit www.ButterballCruelty.com
and forward the video footage to friends and family with a note about making
this Thanksgiving a vegetarian one.
For more information visit www.ButterballCruelty.com.
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