Raleigh, N.C. — An animal-rights group whose undercover investigation a year ago led to criminal charges against workers at a Hoke County turkey farm is making new allegations of turkey abuse at other North Carolina farms tied to Garner-based Butterball LLC.
Mercy for Animals said Wednesday that one of its members was hired as a worker on a crew that visited different farms each evening to round up turkeys. The member used a hidden camera to shoot footage last month of turkeys being kicked, stomped on, dragged by their wings or necks and thrown into crates on top of other birds.
Nathan Runkle, executive director of Mercy for Animals, said the turkeys had broken bones that went untreated and had open sores from neglect.
"Butterball claims to have a zero-tolerance policy for animal abuse," Runkle said. "Nothing could be further from the truth. Butterball allows a culture of cruelty, neglect and violence to fester at its factory farms."
Butterball is conducting an internal investigation and has suspended the workers shown in the video, spokeswoman Rachael Jarnagin said.
"Animal care and well-being is central to the operations of our company, and we remain committed to the ethical and responsible care of our turkey flocks," Jarnagin said in a statement.
The video has been turned over to authorities in Sampson, Duplin, Lenoir and Onslow counties, where the footage was shot, to determine if criminal charges are warranted. Some video also was shot at a Cumberland County farm, but Runkle said there was less evidence of animal abuse there.
"This is not a matter of one rogue employee. This is a matter of Butterball failing to address abuse once again – failing to have policies, oversight (or) training," Runkle said. "Butterball should be held criminally accountable for the abuse."
Ernie Lee, the district attorney for Sampson, Duplin and Onslow counties, said he is reviewing the video, which he received two weeks ago, and is checking state and federal animal care regulations.
Last December, Hoke County authorities raided a turkey farm near Shannon after Mercy for Animals shot video of abuse there. Five workers were arrested, and at least one 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.