KFC Supplier Accused of Animal Cruelty
An animal rights group involved in a long legal dispute with Kentucky Fried Chicken about the treatment of the 700 million chickens it buys each year is to release a videotape today showing slaughterhouse workers for one supplier jumping up and down on live chickens, drop-kicking them like footballs and slamming them into walls, apparently for fun.
After officials of the KFC Corporation saw the videotape yesterday, they said they would seek dismissal of the workers, inspect the slaughterhouse more often and end their relationship if the cruelty was repeated. The company that owns the slaughterhouse, the Pilgrim's Pride Corporation, the country's second-largest poultry processor, said it was "appalled" by the tape.
Animal rights groups have long complained that sheer malicious behavior - on top of the expected confinement and bloodletting - goes on in slaughter plants, but this is the first time such graphic proof has been produced. The tape was taken surreptitiously by an investigator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals who worked from October 2003 to May 2004 at a Pilgrim's Pride plant in Moorefield, W.Va., that won KFC's "Supplier of the Year" award in 1997.
KFC and its parent, Yum Brands, have repeatedly committed themselves to a promise that all suppliers would treat animals humanely. Yesterday, a spokeswoman for KFC said the company "wouldn't tolerate the type of behavior in the video."
KFC "will require that the employee or employees responsible be terminated," said Bonnie Warschauer, director of public relations, and further violations will "result in termination of our relationship."
Prominent veterinarians, including those on the company's animal welfare advisory board, called for shutting 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."
A Pilgrim's Pride spokesman said the company had an anonymous report about poultry mistreatment at the plant in April and had made it clear to its workers that "any such behavior would result in immediate termination." In light of the tape, the company said, it will reopen its investigation.
The tape includes loud music the workers listen to, the screeching of the birds and the sound of each hitting the wall. When released, it will be on a Web site of the animal-rights group, which is known as PETA, at kentuckyfriedcruelty.com.
The undercover investigator, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation and 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, one day he filmed, workers made a game of throwing chickens against a wall; 114 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.
To document cruelty and position his tiny camera, he said, he 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.
Last year, PETA sued Kentucky Fried Chicken and called for a boycott, demanding that it require its suppliers to give chickens more room in factory barns, stop forcing growth so rapid that it cripples birds, and to gas birds before hanging them so they feel no pain.
The group has won similar concessions from Burger King, McDonald's and Wendy's.
Yum Brands did not do as PETA requested, but its KFC Web site says the company is "committed to the humane treatment of animals." It describes steps taken to assure such treatment, including creating an advisory council and promising to "only deal with suppliers who provide an environment that is free from cruelty, abuse and neglect."
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 on KFC's animal welfare advisory board, but said PETA had not told her when it sent her the tape this month where it had been taken. "They need to fire the plant manager," she said.
Both Ms. Warschauer of KFC and a spokesman for Pilgrim's Pride said they would ask Dr. Grandin to visit the plant.
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. It has also written to KFC and Pilgrim's Pride, asking them to use gas to knock the animals out before they are killed and to mount video cameras to forestall employee cruelty.
The PETA investigator said he would testify, calling it "the right thing to do."
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."
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