In a historic first for the animal protection movement, Butterball factory farm worker Brian Douglas was arrested, charged, and convicted of felony cruelty to animals in August 2012. The conviction arose from a hidden-camera undercover investigation by Mercy For Animals, which caught Douglas beating, throwing, and kicking live turkeys. This was the first felony cruelty conviction on behalf of farmed birds in U.S. history. Since then, three Butterball workers have been convicted of cruelty to animals -- most recently on Feb. 22, 2013.
All four convictions stem from a groundbreaking undercover investigation by Mercy For Animals at a Butterball turkey factory farm in Hoke County, N.C. In complete contradiction to Butterball's PR claim of maintaining a "zero tolerance policy for any mistreatment," a culture of animal cruelty and neglect was allowed to fester at this facility.
The hidden-camera video footage that led to the arrests and convictions revealed Butterball workers violently kicking and stomping on birds, dragging them by their fragile wings and necks, and maliciously throwing turkeys onto the ground or into transport trucks. This was all carried out in full view of Butterball company management. See for yourself:
The harsh living conditions and brutal handling, common in factory farms, caused serious illnesses and injuries to the turkeys, including open sores, infections, rotting eyes, and broken bones. Many turkeys were found covered in flies, living in their own waste, unable to access food or water, and suffering from severe feather loss and necrotic (dead) muscles and skin.
Acting on evidence gathered through the Mercy For Animals investigation, law enforcement officials raided the Butterball factory farm for two days -- searching the facility, making arrests, and euthanizing suffering birds. Michael Hardin, Hoke County senior assistant district attorney, commented on this landmark case that farmed animals "deserve protection from completely senseless and totally unnecessary acts of cruelty."
As these convictions pile up, it is obvious that the extreme animal abuse caught on video at Butterball is not isolated, but rather the company's normal everyday practices. In fact, a follow-up investigation by Mercy For Animals at several different Butterball facilities in North Carolina uncovered the same sadistic violence and cruelty that led to criminal convictions in Hoke County.
Tragically, each day of a turkey's life in a Butterball factory farm is filled with deprivation and brutality, due to the company's complete lack of meaningful animal welfare policies, training, or procedures. Oregon State University poultry scientist Dr. Tom Savage says that turkeys are "smart animals with personalities and character, and keen awareness of their surroundings." In fact, animal behaviorists, veterinarians, and scientists now agree that turkeys are sensitive and intelligent animals with their own unique personalities, much like the dogs and cats we all know and love.
As bright and sentient beings, these birds deserve protection from the malicious abuse and appalling conditions found at Butterball, and all factory farms. Replacing turkeys and other animals in our diets with healthy and humane plant-based alternatives is the only way to completely end their suffering. Thankfully, from Tofurky's deli slices to Gardein's Savory Stuffed Turk'y, there are tons of fabulous faux turkey options available so that compassionate consumers can still get the tastes and textures they love without all the saturated fat, cholesterol, and cruelty of Butterball.