SHANNON, N.C. — The state Agriculture Department's top poultry vet says she "deeply regrets" tipping off turkey producer Butterball that one of its operations in Hoke County was being investigated for animal cruelty.
The operation in Shannon was raided Dec. 28 after an undercover investigator for an animal rights group videotaped workers abusing turkeys and leaving injured birds untended. Some turkeys found by investigators for the Hoke County Sheriff's Department had to be euthanized.
Six days before the raid, Hoke investigators contacted the Department of Agriculture for advice about the raid. Hours later, Dr. Sarah Mason contacted Dr. Eric Gonder, a veterinarian for Butterball, to relay the information.
According to a search warrant released last week, Mason first denied contacting Gonder, but admitted it after investigators told her Gonder had already identified her as the contact.
In a statement issued by her attorney, Mason said Gonder is a longtime friend. She said she called him because she wanted to stop the abuse immediately.
"I recognize the seriousness of my actions and do not want my actions to negatively influence the public's perception of my colleagues at the Department," Mason said.
Mason also said no one at the Department of Agriculture had asked her to make the call, and that no one else there was aware of her actions.
Critics of the Department have accused it of being too friendly with the businesses it regulates.
No charges have been filed. An investigation is underway, both by law enforcement officials and within the Department.
Butterball issued a statement saying it is fully cooperating with the investigation into the leak, adding that "The Hoke County incident is a regrettable and unfortunate event and does not in any way reflect the policies, intentions or beliefs of Butterball or its associates."