A graphic undercover video of turkey and chicken abuse at a poultry slaughterhouse in Raeford, N.C., has prompted Denny's Corp. to suspend its relationship with the poultry supplier. An investigation by national animal welfare group Mercy for Animals found workers at House of Raeford, also an Arby's supplier, punching and throwing poultry for entertainment and invading birds' cavities for eggs which they then threw at each other.
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In one scene captured by a hidden camera a worker places a turkey under the tires of a truck to be run over; in another, a thrown bird misses a ledge and falls a full story. Beneath bleeding and dismembered birds hanging upside down and flapping futilely, birds' violent, drawn out death convulsions can be clearly seen. www.mercyforanimals.org/hor
The unidentified Mercy for Animals investigator worked in the live hanging area of the slaughterhouse, where arriving birds are pulled from crates and snapped into moving shackles on the slaughter line, from January 2007 to February 2007.
He also reported turkeys arrived at the plant with broken wings and legs, wounds and gashes and tumors the size of cantaloupes. On January 10, 2007 he writes, "Today I saw about 50 dead turkeys on the trucks and about 80 live birds fell onto the floor."
Executive Director of Columbus Ohio-based Mercy For Animals Nathan Runkle said the group is asking Hoke County, N.C., prosecutor Kristy Newton to bring felony-level cruelty-to-animal charges against House of Raeford Farms Inc. and the participating employees for violation of North Carolina statute 14-360 which prohibits "intentionally" and "maliciously" injuring animals.
The mutilations and cruelty recorded were not normal farm animal handling--which the statute exempts--according to veterinarians and animal health professors who viewed the video, Runkle writes in a formal complaint.
In response to the video, Spartanburg, SC-based Denny's Corp. announced it was suspending purchases from House Of Raeford calling the recorded actions "unconscionable."
"We want to take a strong stand against animal cruelty," said Debbie Atkins, Denny's Director of Public Relations. "Denny's has long advocated humane animal handling practices among our suppliers."
Atlanta, Ga-based Arby's Restaurant Group, Inc., which also buys turkey from House Of Raeford did not respond to the investigation and videotape.
A statement on the House of Raeford web site says the company is "committed to meeting or exceeding all recognized industry guidelines for animal welfare." It also says, "Each employee receives training in appropriate handling methods and is evaluated on a routine basis," a claim disputed by the investigator.
While the company promises "every employee, regardless of rank, involved or having knowledge of these violations will be held accountable" it also calls the "malicious activity" "coerced" and even "staged" by the investigator.
"It’s not surprising when a company is caught red-handed on film, that they will try to defend themselves but they're really scraping the bottom of the barrel here," observed Mercy for Animal's Runkle.
This is not the first time House of Raeford has been caught red-handed.
Two years ago a House of Raeford chicken processing plant in Arcadia, LA was closed by the USDA for failing to respond to a string of sanitation and environmental violations pertaining to "employee hygiene and improper product-handling practices."
"They've been allowed to operate while they worked on these violations," said Matt Baun of the department's Food Safety Inspection Service division in Washington, D.C. "But some of the concerns became so large, we had to shut down the operation."
The company has a "decade-long history" of polluting ground water and municipal sewage systems says the News & Observer and chemical spills at House of Raeford plants killed an employee in 2003 and sickened 25 in 2004.
Viewing the undercover video filmed by the Mercy for Animals investigator, Dr. Temple Grandin, Associate professor of Livestock Behavior at Colorado State University said, "This is a sloppy, poorly managed plant where employees are allowed to abuse animals."
Dr. Bernard Rollin, a Distinguished Professor of Animal Science who is also at Colorado State University said, "In my view, this plant should be shut down until it can be run humanely and properly."
Dr. Mohan Raj, a veterinary scientist with the World Organization of Animal Health who specializes in stunning and slaughter methods, called the videotaped removal of eggs from live chickens by inserting hands into their vents "unjustifiably extreme cruelty."
In addition to full prosecution of House of Raeford and participating employees, Mercy for Animals is asking Denny's and Arby's to follow Burger King's lead in seeking poultry suppliers who use Controlled Atmosphere Killing (CAK), a more humane method of slaughter in which birds are deprived of oxygen and spared handling by employees because they are not removed from their crates.
This is important because though obviously livestock, birds are not covered by the 1958 Humane Methods of Slaughter Act says Daniel Hauff, Director of Campaigns with Mercy for Animals. "They are not considered livestock by the USDA and don't receive a modicum of protection." END