By: Staff  Date: 09/25/2004

On July 21, Pilgrim’s Pride, the nation’s second largest poultry processing company, fired 11 employees at a West Virginia poultry slaughterhouse for violations of the company’s animal welfare policies, including wanton acts of cruelty. The action came after the company investigated charges of cruelty for actions captured on videotape by an undercover operative for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The fired employees included a superintendent, a foreman, and several hourly workers. In addition to terminating their employment, Pilgrim’s Pride placed quality assurance monitors on both shifts at the plant. Kentucky Fried Chicken, one of the company’s largest customers, suspended purchases from the West Virginia plant until Pilgrim’s Pride can guarantee that no further abuses will occur.

According to a company spokesman, the PeTA undercover agent participated in an animal welfare training program in September 2003 in which employees were told to report any abuses they witnessed.

“We’re disappointed that the individual who surreptitiously videotaped the abuses did not report them to us when they occurred so we could take immediate action at that time,” said Pilgrim’s Pride president O.B. Goolsby. If the undercover animal rights agent had reported the incidents when they occurred, he said, “...corrective and disciplinary actions would have been taken many months ago and chickens would have been spared from suffering the types of abuses shown in the video.”

Local authorities are investigating to see if West Virginia animal welfare law has been violated. The first prosecutor stepped down because of a potential conflict of interest and the West Virginia's Prosecuting Attorneys Institute is now locating a replacement. He had received over 600 letters from PETA supporters urging him to file felony animal cruelty charges.

The National Animal Interest Alliance condemns all cruelty whether the result of neglect or gratuitous torture of the sort reported here. At the same time, NAIA congratulates Pilgrim’s Pride for its quick action, and urges a thorough investigation by the company and by local and federal authorities.

"NAIA believes that those who commit wanton acts of cruelty, along with the undercover spies who witness these atrocities and abet them by standing idly by instead of reporting them on the spot, should be charged with cruelty and thoroughly investigated", said Patti Strand, NAIA President. "Such investigations should be exhaustive enough to rule out even the slightest possibility of collusion between abusers, undercover spies and organizations whose fundraising dollars depend on the commission of inexcusable acts of cruelty. Those who grant themselves moral authority to monitor and judge the actions of others while engaging in fund-raising and publicity campaigns that rely on the continuing illegal behavior of their subjects, should be held to the highest level of accountability possible. But according to an Associated Press story, the identity of the undercover spy at Pilgrim's Pride is being withheld "because he may do additional covert work" for PeTA. NAIA believes that the identity of the undercover operative who works for PeTA should be released immediately to aid in the ongoing investigation."

PeTA has established a reputation for sending agents into businesses, videotaping activity over many months, and using enhanced or edited versions of the tapes reduced from hundreds of hours to just a few minutes to accuse animal handlers of cruelty. The distilled tapes are often sent directly to the media for maximum impact against the businesses they target. PeTA then uses media coverage to urge animal lovers to join the battle against an individual business or an entire enterprise. For months, PeTA has campaigned against Kentucky Fried Chicken, claiming that the restaurant chain ignores animal welfare in the farms and slaughterhouses that supply its chickens. The videotape recorded at Pilgrim’s Pride allows PeTA to use allegations of cruelty committed by a few workers at one site as a weapon against the restaurant chain and the entire livestock industry and to encourage donations that will finance additional attacks in the future.

The vast majority of people involved in raising livestock understand that managing livestock humanely is critically important to producing healthy animals and wholesome food. Despite the fact that slaughterhouses depend on an inexperienced and sometimes an uneducated, minimum wage work force, NAIA believes that the majority of workers will follow the instructions they are given in animal welfare policies. The acts committed at Pilgrim's Pride were not simple violations of humane guidelines, though, but sadistic examples of wanton cruelty perpetrated by a few sick individuals. Because of this, NAIA urges animal businesses to increase their screening of potential employees to weed out those with histories of animal cruelty and other violent crimes.

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