Beat Your Meat: New Law Lets Factory Farmers Choke Their Chicks in Private
The hidden camera worn by an employee at a Butterball turkey farm in North Carolina recorded workers stomping and kicking birds, throwing them by their necks into metal cages, and beating them with metal bars. The animals had festering wounds on their bodies and eyes. Some writhed in pain on the ground. For three weeks, the employee, an undercover investigator for Mercy For Animals, documented abuse after abuse in the milking barn, which is where semen is manually collected from the toms; the birds have been bred so large and deformed that they can no longer reproduce naturally. After the investigation, the nonprofit turned over the video footage to prosecutors.
Within days, cops prepared to raid—something unheard of when it comes to factory farms. But Butterball had friends in high places, including the government agency in charge of overseeing its operations. The director of Animal Health Programs called a friend at Butterball hoping to thwart the raid.
The tip-off didn’t work. The raid led to national media exposure, the conviction of a top-level Department of Agriculture official for obstruction of justice, and criminal charges against five employees for animal cruelty. Two of the employees have pleaded guilty, marking the first felony conviction for cruelty to factory-farmed birds. On February 22, two more former Butterball employees were found guilty of animal cruelty.
Industrial agriculture executives and lawmakers have responded swiftly to undercover investigations like this one, but not in the ways you might expect. Rather than improving animal welfare, enhancing criminal penalties, or increasing oversight of the industry, there’s a national campaign to criminalize anyone who brings these abuses to light under the guise of protecting the farmers and their food supply from animal- and environment-loving “terrorists.”