Local News

DA: No charges in alleged turkey abuse at Butterball farms

Posted December 10, 2012

— The top prosecutor in Sampson, Duplin and Onslow counties said Monday that there is insufficient evidence of animal abuse by workers at farms linked to Butterball LLC to pursue criminal charges.

Mercy for Animals conducted an undercover investigation in October and collected hidden-camera video of what the the animal-rights group described as turkeys being kicked, stomped on, dragged by their wings or necks and thrown into crates on top of other birds.

The footage was shot at turkey farms in Cumberland, Sampson, Duplin, Lenoir and Onslow counties, although the group said there was little evidence of abuse at the Cumberland County farm.

Ernie Lee, the district attorney for Sampson, Duplin and Onslow counties, said he reviewed the video with several assistant prosecutors and studied state and federal regulations for handling poultry before deciding not to press criminal charges in the case.

"After reviewing the video footage and documentary material, I do not believe that we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that acts of animal cruelty were committed by the employees depicted in the video based upon applicable North Carolina law," Lee said in a statement.

He said the video shows workers trying to move the turkeys to a truck, and they don't even touch most of the birds.

"Any contact with the turkeys did not appear to be egregious or malicious in nature and did not appear for the purpose of tormenting the turkeys," he said.

Nathan Runkle, executive director of Mercy for Animals, said he found it "extremely troubling" that Lee won't prosecute the case, saying the video clearly shows criminal wrongdoing.

"This case graphically illustrates the need for stronger animal protection laws in North Carolina and greater federal protection from animal abuse. Turkeys, and all animals, deserve to be treated humanely during their lives, even if they are ultimately slaughtered for food," Runkle said in a statement.

The group said it is considering filing suit against Butterball and called for a consumer boycott of the Garner-based company's products.

Butterball suspended the workers shown in the videos while it conducted an internal investigation. The company maintains that it has a zero-tolerance policy regarding animal abuse.

Mercy for Animals last year conducted another undercover investigation at a Hoke County turkey farm. Authorities subsequently raided the farm and arrested five workers.

At least one worker pleaded guilty in the case. Also, the top poultry veterinarian at the state Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services pleaded guilty to tipping off the farm to the raid.


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  • Skywatch_NC Dec 11, 2012

    There's HUMANE ways to process livestock ...and INHUMANE ways. Sadly, a lot of factory farms go the way of INHUMANE.

  • pcrowe01 Dec 11, 2012

    Getting swept under the rug? Imagine that!

  • gnewsome1 Dec 11, 2012

    Oh wellm wnough talk about turkeys to turkeys. We planning on having one for CHRISTmas. Have already had it for Thanksgiving and it was good. I guess we could be classed as killers since it was dead when we ate it.

  • gnewsome1 Dec 11, 2012

    Good commdent ripe. If the whiners on here had ever worked on a farm, they would have a much different opinion. We actually raised what we ate, including vegetables. Now, a small percentage of farmers feed the rest of the nation. Wonder how many of the crybabys on here eat turkey, chicken or other farm animals.

  • ripetomatoes Dec 11, 2012

    I didn't claw my way to the top of the food chain for nothing.
    I've never seen a starving whiner, either. All you're going to do is raise the price of food if you boycott or shut someone down.
    I was fortunate to be raised on a farm. Helped my Dad bottle feed a calf he bought at the livestock auction in the spring one year when I was about 5 years old. Named him Bill. That fall Bill disappeared and I found out we had been eating him about twice a week. Bill tasted good.
    Let the farmers handle the raising of the livestock and let everyone else worry about the price of food.
    If you eat anything today, show a little appreciation and whisper a prayer of thanks for a farmer.

  • gnewsome1 Dec 11, 2012

    Did the same thing as shadowbubbaz, except we killed and plucked the chickens outside of the house. We didn't have a sink but the chicken still tasted the same, awesome.

  • gnewsome1 Dec 11, 2012

    Eat more turkey. That's what they are being raised for. Prosecute the tree huggers for trespass. Butterball does not raise these birds, they buy them for human consumption and you tree huggers eat them. The contractors are private contractors, not Butterball employeses. Butterball just buys them so that you people can have something good to eat. I like turkey. Keep on buying them Butterball.

  • PITNSMOKE Dec 11, 2012

    To all don't group people. I work in a company that raises animals for profit. These animals feed the WORLD. I try to be as humane as possible. I wish that was true about everyone. I was raised on a farm. If it wasn't for these companies,you wouldn't be able to get off work and go by KFC, Mcdonalds, Bojangles ,Outback and buy supper. What percent of you even know where to buy livestock for food. Then again don't forget they don't want you harvesting (shooting) deer, rabbits,and squirrels. Oh don't forget the vegetables you say you will eat, some people break the rules in that too. Do you honestly think when you go out to eat people are CLEAN? There again some are, others don't care. The company I work for has a ZERO Tolerence on abuse. But some of you think spanking a child is abuse, but you will watch Jerry Springer and laugh, Dr. Phil and cry. Bottom line is treat EVERYTHING WITH RESPECT!

  • beachboater Dec 11, 2012

    I don't agree with any type of abuse period. People, animals, whatever. However, I also do not like these tree huggers that try to file suit on any and everything to get their names in the news. This group is akin to PETA.

    What gives them the authority to conduct an "undercover investigation" to start with? I really wonder how much video they had to get before they got their "really good stuff."

  • shadowbubbaz Dec 10, 2012

    I was raised on a farm....did you not seee that part! I know how a chicken goes from being alive to sitting on your dinner table. I used to help cut the chickens heads off and then pluck them in my granny's kitchen sink so you cant tell me nothing that I dont already know when It comes to this!!!!! There is a way to do things and a way you dont do things!!!! Common sense---where did it go?????