A PROSECUTOR in North Carolina has reported that he does not plan to bring animal cruelty charges against employees at Butterball LLC turkey farms in the state because he does not have sufficient grounds to proceed.
The charges were sought by Mercy For Animals, which released an undercover video last month that the group said showed workers at farms in three North Carolina counties engaged in egregious animal abuse, including dragging turkeys by their necks and wings, kicking and stomping on turkeys and throwing them against walls and on the ground (Feedstuffs, Nov. 19).
The video was shot in October with a hidden camera by an "investigator" for the group who had obtained employment working at the farms in Duplin, Onslow and Sampson counties.
The video and additional documentation were turned over to District Attorney Ernie Lee, who has jurisdiction for the three counties. Lee then formed a team that included himself and assistant district attorneys in the three counties to review the video and documents, Butterball's animal welfare program and the animal handling regulations of both the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Lee, in a statement Nov. 10, said he concluded that the workers were loading turkeys into trucks for transportation to a company processing plant, and most of them were loaded without physical contact from the workers.
Where workers did need to contact the turkeys, they did not appear to be "injuring or tormenting" the birds, Lee said.
"Any contact did not appear to be egregious or malicious in nature," he said.
Accordingly, Lee said he decided that his office could not prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that the workers had violated applicable animal cruelty laws, which make it a misdemeanor to engage in animal abuse.
Mercy For Animals said North Carolina law "clearly indicates" that the workers' actions "are illegal and should be punished," adding that it was "disappointed" in the decision, which it called "extremely troubling."
Mercy For Animals is headquartered in Los Angeles, Cal., and advocates vegetarianism.
Butterball has called animal health and well-being its "number-one priority" and has stated that it has "zero tolerance" for mistreatment of turkeys.
Company workers were captured on similar undercover video by another Mercy For Animals investigator earlier this year (Feedstuffs, Jan. 9). In that case, several workers were fired and later pled guilty to animal cruelty charges.
Butterball, headquartered in Garner, N.C., is a joint venture between Maxwell Farms LLC and Seaboard Corp. and is the largest turkey company in the U.S.