Undercover video leads to charges against chicken farm worker

Posted December 10, 2015 8:52 a.m. EST
Updated December 10, 2015 3:43 p.m. EST

— Video of chickens being kicked, thrown and stomped led to the arrest Tuesday of an employee at a Rockingham chicken farm and a call from animal rights group Mercy for Animals for changes at the farm, which supplies birds sold under the Perdue label.

Mercy for Animals released the video Thursday, and organization president Nathan Runkle said, "Extreme cruelty to animals is business as usual at Perdue."

Danny Cajija Miranda, 22, was charged with four counts of animal cruelty and was held under a $10,000 bond at the Richmond County jail.

Miranda works at Deese Farm and Hideaway Farms, both contractors for Perdue.

Runkle used the arrest to pressure Perdue to "end many of the worst forms of animal abuse and neglect in its supply chain."

Mercy for Animals said the most recent video shows "birds kicked like footballs, thrown against walls and violently stomped to death by callous workers." Other chickens in the video are ill, deformed and unable to move or eat. Some can't even stand up because they've been bred to have oversized breasts.

Matt Rice, chief investigator for the group, called the abuse horrific but said it's not unusual to find such conditions on factory farms. He called on Perdue to change the way its animals are cared for.

"As one of the largest poultry producers in the United States, Perdue has not only the power but also the responsibility to end the needless suffering of millions of animals in its supply chain," Rice said.

Perdue spokeswoman Julie DeYoung thanked the animal-rights groups for "uncovering clear animal abuse" and said it shows the company needs to "improve our oversight, training and practices around day-to-day care of our animals."

"As a company, Perdue is committed to continuous improvement, and as with our journey toward being the leader in No Antibiotics Ever, we are actively seeking to improve the way we raise chickens," DeYoung said in a statement. "We recently created a new vice president-level position within company, Chief Animal Welfare Officer and Farm Family Advocate ... to improve animal care and to develop closer relationships with the farmers who care for those animals."

State lawmakers in June approved legislation over Gov. Pat McCrory's veto that will soon make undercover videos such as those taken by Mercy for Animals harder to obtain.

Dubbed an "ag-gag" measure by its critics, the law gives businesses the right to sue employees who expose trade secrets or take pictures of their workplaces.

"The clear intent of this ag-gag law is to stop undercover investigations from exposing animal abuse, environmental problems, worker safety problems and other issues happening in the state's agricultural facilities," Rice said.

The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, goes beyond agricultural facilities to include everything from nursing homes and day cares to restaurants and pharmacies – any whistleblower who takes video or pictures without an employer's consent, even if what they document is criminal activity.

Rice said a federal judge has ruled a similar ag-gag law in Idaho is unconstitutional, and he is hopeful North Carolina's law will likewise be struck down.

"We feel that Americans have a right to know where their food comes from and how animals in these factory farms are treated so that they can make informed choices," he said.