The Cruelty of
An animal rights group involved in a long legal dispute with Kentucky Fried Chicken about the treatment of the 750 million chickens it slaughters each year, released a videotape showing slaughterhouse workers jumping up and down on live chickens, drop-kicking them like footballs and slamming them into walls, apparently for fun.
Animal rights groups have long complained that the sheer malicious behavior - on top of the typical confinement and bloodletting - goes on in slaughter plants all the time, but this is the first time such graphic proof has been produced. The tape was taken surreptitiously by an investigator for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) who worked at the plant from October 2003 to May 2004.
Prominent veterinarians, including those on the company's animal welfare advisory board, called for shutting down the plant and dismissing or prosecuting its managers. Dr. Ian J. H. Duncan, an animal and poultry science professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, who is a KFC adviser, said the tape contains some of the worst scenes of animal cruelty that I have ever witnessed."
The undercover investigator, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he still does undercover work for the group, said in a telephone interview that he saw "hundreds" of acts of cruelty, including workers tearing beaks off, ripping a bird's head off to write graffiti in blood, spitting tobacco juice into birds' mouths, plucking feathers to "make it snow," suffocating a chicken by tying a latex glove over its head, and squeezing birds like water balloons to spray feces over other birds.
He said the behavior was "to alleviate boredom or vent frustrations," especially when so many birds were coming in that they would have to work late.
On April 6, during just one day of filming, workers can be seen making a game of throwing chickens against a wall; 114 chickens were thrown in seven minutes. A supervisor walking past the pile of birds on the floor said, "Hold your fire," and, once out of the way, told the crew to "carry on."
On another day, he said, the supervisor told the crew to "kill correctly because inspectors were visiting."
The tape includes the screeching of the birds and the sound of each hitting the wall. The video can be seen on PETA's web site at: www.kentuckyfriedcruelty.com
To document cruelty and position his tiny camera, the investigator spent eight months working in the "hang pen," where workers attach newly arrived chickens by their feet to a conveyor that carries them upside-down through an electrified "stun bath" and then into the whirling blades of the throat-cutting machine.
KFC says all its suppliers train their workers in animal welfare, but the investigator said Pilgrim's Pride had nothing on the topic in its orientation manual and the only instruction he received was after five months, and then only in how to wring a chicken's neck by hand. The Web site of Pilgrim's Pride does not note any animal welfare policy.
Dr. Temple Grandin, a well-known veterinary scientist who designs plants for humane slaughter, called the behavior shown on the videotape "absolutely atrocious."
Dr. Grandin is also on KFC's animal welfare advisory board and said "They need to fire the plant manager."
Several American and British veterinary experts to whom PETA sent the videotape expressed disgust.
"I have visited many poultry slaughterhouses but I have never seen cruelty to chickens to the extent shown in this video," said Dr. Donald M. Broom, professor of animal welfare at Cambridge University and chairman of the European Union's animal welfare scientific committee. "It would be grounds for a successful prosecution for cruelty to animals in most countries."
PETA said it planned to ask a West Virginia prosecutor to prosecute plant employees and managers under state laws that make torture or malicious killing of animals a felony. The investigator said he would testify. PETA also said the best thing each of us can do to help spare animals from such torture is to simply stop eating them and, thus, stop creating the industry that allows such cruelty to occur.
Pilgrim's Pride, the second-largest poultry producer behind Tyson Foods, won KFC's "Supplier of the Year" award in 1997.
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