WASHINGTON D.C.––Pilgrim’s Pride Inc., of Greeley, Colorado, operates three of the nine “worst chicken plants for animal cruelty,” according to a review of USDA records by Animal Welfare Institute farm animal programs manager Dena Jones and Farm Sanctuary director of policy Bruce Friedrich, but the worst of all appears to be the Case Farms facility in Canton, Ohio, Jones and Friedrich have advised company president Tom Shelton.
“We have recently filed Freedom of Information Act requests for records documenting the failure of poultry slaughter plants to adhere to Good Commercial Practices as required by Poultry Products Inspection Act regulations,” Jones and Friedrich wrote to Shelton on November 10, 2014. “Over the five months of our survey, December 2013-April 2014, your plant was by far the most noncompliant of any plant in the country, racking up 15 [federally documented] incidents of handling birds inhumanely.”
Jones and Friedrich reminded Shelton that the incidents in question represent violations of both federal and Ohio state law.
“According to the USDA records we received,” Jones and Friedrich continued, “workers in your [Canton] plant threw live birds into the trash six times in three months, and boiled them alive nine times in three months,” in just the limited observations of inspectors with multiple other duties.
“Additionally,” Jones and Friedrich wrote, “USDA inspectors documented an instance of intentional cruelty to animals in which one of your workers was slamming multiple birds into the same sets of shackles, and another instance in which live birds were frozen to cages. More than one fourth of the animals” involved in that incident “arrived dead from the freezing weather.”
Counting the individual chicken deaths mentioned in the inspection reports, “Nearly 50 birds were boiled alive, while dozens froze to death or suffered broken legs on their way to the plant from Case farms [growing facilities]. Nearly 40 birds were buried alive under dead birds in trash bins, and 20 chickens froze to death in cages in the plant’s holding area,” summarized Cleveland Plain Dealer animal welfare columnist Donna J. Miller.
The latter violations, Jones told Miller, were “entirely preventable” through better planning by Case Farms management.
“In most cases,” Jones said, “slaughter plants know well in advance of approaching bad weather, and have adequate opportunity to take precautions to avoid unnecessary suffering. They can reschedule transportation during extreme cold, wrap cages or place panels across livestock trailers, minimize plant holding times, and provide heat in holding areas.”
Responded Case Farms general manager and vice president for operations Sammy Caudle to an inquiry from Miller on November 19, 2014, “We share your concerns with the documented Good Commercial Practices violations and have made every effort to eliminate all of these actions from continuing in our facility. Our poultry welfare officers and company veterinarian have developed a program of daily practices and procedures,” Caudle said, “that enable the company to properly train and monitor associates in all areas throughout the lifespan of the chickens.”
The Case Farms response did not cite any specific examples of how Case hopes to avoid repetition of the violations.
Case Farms slaughtering facilities in Ohio were cited by the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration in December 2011 for 61 alleged violations of workplace health and safety laws. OSHA “proposed $288,000 in fines” for the violations, the agency said.
300 poultry slaughterhouses
Jones and Friedrich reviewed USDA inspection records from 300 poultry slaughterhouses in all. The “nine worst chicken plants for animal cruelty” that they identified also included Amick Farms’ slaughterhouse in Hurlock, Maryland; the Tyson slaughterhouse in Shelbyville, Tennessee; the Sanderson facility in Collins, Mississippi; Southern Hen, of Moselle, Mississippi; OK Foods, of Heavener, Oklahoma; and the Pilgrim’s Pride slaughterhouses in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Natchitoches, Louisiana, and Mount Pleasant, Texas.
At Natchitoches, reported Maya Lau of the Shreveport Times, violations similar to those found at Case Farms “included putting live chickens in piles of so-called ‘dead on arrival’ birds. The live chickens later were extracted from the mound of cadavers…In one instance on December 23, 2013, a chicken that ‘had its head up and blinked its eyes’ was found ‘in danger of being buried and smothered’ in a cart of dead birds…Chickens were also said to have suffocated inside cages wrapped with plastic to protect against cold weather. Once the temperature grew warm, according to one document, the plastic was not properly removed, causing some birds to die.”
Added Lau, “Marty Guillory, plant manager for Pilgrim’s Pride in Natchitoches, declined to respond directly for this article but said the facility replied to each of the USDA’s citations, before abruptly hanging up the phone. Cameron Bruett, Pilgrim’s Pride head of corporate affairs, said in an e-mailed statement that the Natchitoches plant ‘addressed the concerns raised through voluntary corrective actions,’” apparently without stipulating what those corrective actions were.
Pilgrim’s Pride, like Case Farms, has had previous problematic history. A PETA undercover investigation in July 2004 caused Pilgrim’s Pride to fire 11 employees at a slaughterhouse in Moorefield, West Virginia, and retrain managers at 24 slaughterhouses in all. The PETA undercover videographers captured scenes including employees kicking, throwing, and jumping on live chickens. None of the alleged offenders were criminally prosecuted.
Two of the same Pilgrim’s Pride plants named by Jones and Friedrich were among five found by U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement in 2008 to be employing 91 alleged illegal aliens.
Mercy for Animals video
While Jones and Friedrich fingered the Pilgrim’s Pride slaughterhouse in Chattanooga from USDA records, Mercy for Animals on November 19, 2014 released undercover video from a Koch Foods slaughterhouse, also in Chattanooga, showing “chickens who survive the slaughter process and then are scalded alive,” reported Travis Loller of Associated Press.
Loller noted that “Tennessee lawmakers in 2013 passed a bill that would have required images documenting animal abuse be turned over to law enforcement within 48 hours,” which Mercy for Animals did not do, “but Governor Bill Haslam vetoed it after an opinion by the state attorney general called the measure ‘constitutionally suspect.’”
Elaborated Mercy for Animals founder Nathan Runkle, “Using hidden cameras, MFA investigators documented baby birds crammed by the tens of thousands into giant, windowless sheds, with sick, injured, and crippled birds left to suffer without proper veterinary care; workers carelessly grabbing birds by the legs, wings, and necks and then violently slamming them into transport crates; chickens having their fragile wings and legs broken as workers hastily and violently shackle them upside down; birds having their throats, wings, and chests sliced open while still conscious and able to feel pain; and thousands of chickens scalded alive in hot water tanks.
No federal laws protect chickens
“As shocking as these abuses are, they are not uncommon,” Runkle continued. “There are no federal laws to protect chickens during their lives on factory farms, and most states specifically exclude chickens from anti-cruelty laws. Even though chickens make up eight billion of the nine billion animals who are slaughtered every year, they are not protected by the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.”
Narrated by Sam Simon, producer of The Simpsons animated TV program, the video was “inaccurate and out of context,” Koch Foods alleged in a media release posted to the company web site.
“Koch Foods trains its processing employees on animal welfare practices and the importance of operating in a precise manner. It also requires its independent contractor chicken catchers to adhere to the Animal Welfare Guidelines of the National Chicken Council,” the release said. “Koch Foods is also regularly audited on its animal welfare practices by an independent auditor. The Chattanooga facility last completed such an audit in September of this year. The auditor found no violations of animal welfare practices in the live or processing operations for the Chattanooga complex.”
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