Chicken processor fires 11 based on animal abuse video

PITTSBURG, Texas, July 22, 2004 (ENS): Chicken processor Pilgrim's Pride has fired 11 employees at its Moorefield, West Virginia plant as the result of the company's investigation into videotaped abuse of the birds aired on national television.

The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals made the tape secretly and released it to the media on Tuesday. PETA said the tape showed workers at the Pilgrim's Pride plant. "Workers ripped the animals' beaks off, twisted their heads off, spat tobacco into their eyes and mouths, spray-painted their faces, and tied their legs together for 'laughs,'" PETA said.

One superintendent, one supervisor, one foreman and eight hourly employees were terminated.

Pilgrim's Pride President and Chief Operating Officer O.B. Goolsby said the investigation will continue "until we're confident that every employee - regardless of rank - who had knowledge of these incidents has been held accountable for their actions."

Pilgrim's Pride has placed quality assurance monitors on both shifts at the Moorefield facility to continuously audit handling practices and processing, Goolsby said.

Goolsby said the company will bring in animal welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin to review practices at its Moorefield plant later this month.

PETA too defers to Grandin's expertise, quoting her as writing, "The behavior of the plant employees was atrocious ... the WORST employee behavior I have ever seen in a poultry plant."

Goolsby said the individual who surreptitiously videotaped the abuses was a company employee who received the company's animal welfare training on September 3, 2003. During training employees are instructed to report such incidents to plant management. If he had done so, Goolsby 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."

Pilgrim's Pride supplies chickens to Kentucky Fried Chicken, whose parent company Yum! Brands said in a statement the treatment of chickens shown in the video was "appalling."

"We have notified Pilgrim's Pride that unless they can definitively assure us there are absolutely no abuses taking place, we will not purchase from this Moorefield, W.Va. facility," KFC said in a statement. "This facility is one of many suppliers to our company and additionally supplies others in the fast food industry." KFC has placed an inspector at the Moorfield plant.

PETA, which supports vegetarianism, has been campaigning against KFC for two years. The group said its investigation was conducted at this location "because it was the site of a KFC "Supplier of the Year" award ceremony, and PETA wanted to see the 'best' that a KFC supplier had to offer."

Pilgrim's Pride, the country's second largest chicken processing company after Tyson Foods, says it "places a high priority on humane treatment of poultry not only because it's the right thing to do, but because it also helps assure high-quality, healthful products for consumers."

Pilgrim's Pride says it follows the animal welfare guidelines recommended by the National Chicken Council.

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