from staff, wire reports
An investigator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals videotaped chickens being kicked, stomped and thrown against a wall by workers at the Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Moorefield, a supplier for Kentucky Fried Chicken.
The fast-food chain has been under pressure since last year over treatment of animals.
Officials from Yum! Brands Inc., which owns Kentucky Fried Chicken, saw the video Monday.
Kentucky Fried Chicken “will require that the employee or employees responsible will be terminated,” spokeswoman Bonnie Warchauer told The New York Times.
Further violations at the plant will “result in termination of our relationship,” Warchauer said.
West Virginia agriculture officials say they have no authority to inspect or sanction the plant, but say they’re unaware of any incidents of inhumane treatment there.
A Pilgrim’s Pride spokesman said that in light of the video, the company would reopen an investigation into earlier claims of cruelty at the plant.
“We are appalled at the treatment of the animals shown in the video,” Ray Atkinson, a spokesman for Pilgrim’s Pride, said in a press release this morning.
“These actions are completely contrary to all of our company’s practices and policies regarding the humane treatment of poultry.”
Atkinson said the company was unaware of the video and was disappointed that it was not shared with the company sooner. He said Pilgrim’s pride had received an anonymous report from the company’s confidential hotline on April 29 about alleged abuse of chickens at the Moorefield plant.
“At that time, we promptly stopped production, addressed the allegations, and communicated the severity of these allegations to our employees, making it clear to them that any such behavior would result in immediate termination,” Atkinson said.
Federal poultry inspectors in charge of West Virginia operations were not available for comment early today.
A man at the Moorefield plant who identified himself as a U.S. Department of Agriculture poultry inspector said he was not familiar with the allegations of abuse and referred questions to a regional office.
State Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass said his office’s power is limited when it comes to controlling operations at large poultry plants inspected solely by the federal Department of Agriculture.
Douglass’s oversight includes poultry farms and about 30 chicken processing plants that do not ship their product across state lines.
Douglass said his knowledge of operations at the Pilgrim’s Pride plant is limited to their intent to change their chicken-catching procedures from human catchers to mechanical systems, which Douglass said was a more humane way to round up chickens.
In regard to allegations of abuse at the plant, he said he found it difficult to believe.
“I really can’t understand it happening,” Douglass said. “It doesn’t sound all that realistic to me unless it was somebody horsing around.”
The video footage secretly was taken at the Moorefield plant by a PETA investigator who worked there from October to May.
In a July 22-dated letter to the plant, copied to Yum! Brands and forwarded to The Associated Press, PETA says its investigator also obtained eyewitness testimony about employees “ripping birds’ beaks off, spray painting their faces, twisting their heads off, spitting tobacco into their mouths and eyes, and breaking them in half — all while the birds are still alive.”
PETA said it planned to ask West Virginia authorities to prosecute plant employees and managers under state animal-cruelty laws. The PETA investigator, who did not reveal his identity because he still does undercover work for the group.