Animal advocacy group Compassion Over Killing presents an undercover investigation into cruelty at Tyson Foods chicken farms. Video courtesy of Compassion Over Killing
In the face of new allegations of ghastly animal abuse by its employees, Tyson Foods says it’s retraining all of its live poultry workers on the company’s animal welfare policies.
The move by one of the world’s largest meat producers came as the animal rights groupCompassion Over Killing released secretly-recorded footage on Thursday that shows Tyson workers stomping, kicking and suffocating breeder chickens at facilities in three Virginia counties. Tyson says it has fired ten workers who can be seen in the video, and a senior company executive, Christine Daugherty, described the employees’ actions as “disgusting.”
“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,” said Daugherty, vice president of sustainable food production for Tyson Foods. “Animals in our care deserve to be treated humanely. It’s our responsibility to ensure that everyone who works for our company behaves properly. Our management team is dedicated to continue fostering a culture of proper animal handling.”
The latest video marks at least the fifth time in roughly 13 months that advocates for various animal rights groups have been able to infiltrate Tyson-connected facilities and secretly record footage of workers abusing chickens and cramped living conditions for chickens before they are slaughtered. The activists typically apply for work at the facilities and are able to surreptitiously record the footage.
In the video released Thursday, a Tyson worker is caught on tape warning the undercover investigator that “you can’t let nobody see you do that” as he stepped on a chicken’s head, suffocating it.
“You don’t know if he’s working for the animal rights,” the worker says. “It is inhumane standing on his head and let them suffocate. They’ll take you to court for that.”
The footage also shows workers punching, kicking and roughly tossing birds.
In the past, the company has responded to the abuse seen in such videos as inexcusable, while stressing that the abusers were not reflective of Tyson’s institutional commitment to animal welfare.
But with the latest video, Tyson said in a statement, “we believe we haven’t gone far enough and must do more to stop this inexcusable behavior.” The company, which made more than $10 billion in poultry sales last year, says it is now evaluating further steps it can take to ensure animal well-being procedures are being followed throughout its operations.
The new video has also spurred Tyson to discontinue the practice of inserting plastic tubes in rooster’s beaks, something known as beak modification, that helps chicken growers prevent males from eating females’ feed.
Compassion Over Killing, which is headquartered in Washington, D.C., said it recently made formal complaints about the abuse to prosecutors and animal control officers in Mecklenburg, Lunenburg and Buckingham counties. No charges had been filed as of Wednesday.
“We believe that Tyson as a company needs to be held accountable,” Erica Meier, the group’s executive director, told USA TODAY. “This is too common of a problem being documented for Tyson’s to be pushing this aside as a few rogue workers or bad apples. This is a systemic problem.”
Worth Sparkman, a Tyson spokesman, said the company has also been in touch with local authorities about the video, but declined to say whether the company wants to see the employees charged.
He said that the retraining will impact hundreds of Tyson’s employees working in live chicken production.
Tyson said in a statement that it has begun meeting with every employee in its chicken operations that handles live birds “to aggressively re-emphasize the importance of proper animal handling and the consequences of not complying with the company’s animal welfare policies.”
The company also said it conducted a video conference on Thursday in which Tyson’s senior management will discuss handling of live birds with managers at the company’s facilities.
“We take animal well-being very seriously, and we are going to get to the bottom of this,” Daugherty said.
Follow USA TODAY Chicago correspondent Aamer Madhani on Twitter: @AamerISmad