SHANNON, N.C. -- Investigators say employees on a farm that raises turkeys for Butterball could be charged with animal neglect, animal cruelty, or both depending upon the results of a two-day raid on a farm in Hoke County.
An undercover video by the animal rights group Mercy For Animals prompted the raid and is part of the investigation, said Hoke County officials.
The video shows turkeys being hit in the head, kicked, thrown, dragged and suffering from open wounds and infections. The video was shot from November 22 through December 16 on the farm in the town of Shannon, according to Mercy For Animals Director of Investigations Daniel Hauff.
Mercy For Animals handed over the unedited video as well as an animal cruelty complaint to the local Sheriff's office and district attorney.
County investigators aren't talking about evidence but say it's possible Butterball employees could be charged with misdemeanor animal neglect, felony animal cruelty, or both, depending upon what they've seen in the video as well as what veterinarians tell them about the conditions of nearly 3,000 turkeys.
In general, investigators say state law protects turkeys against undue torture, maiming, maltreatment, suffering and death, unless it falls under the common practice of doing business.
Hauff says the video shows treatment that is unjustifiable and against the law.
"We want to see them held criminally accountable for their abuses and for their neglect of those animals,” Hauff said. “Neglecting theses animals to slowly suffer and die, allowing their injuries to get so bad that they’re rotting and they have insects infested into them—those are things that are not going to be defended by the industry.”
Butterball says its top priority is to provide for the health and well being of their birds in order to produce safe and nutritious products for consumers. Butterball also says it has a zero tolerance policy for the mistreatment of birds and the failure to report mistreatment and promises to fire employees who don’t adhere to humane treatment policies.
“We are currently working with Hoke County government officials regarding the allegations of animal cruelty at a farm in North Carolina. Butterball takes these allegations very seriously and fully supports the efforts being made on the part of officials,” a statement said.
Hauff says the video shows Butterball doesn't do what it says.
"It's very clear that Butterball doesn't have meaningful animal welfare policies and procedures, that it's just PR statements,” he said.
Investigators aren’t saying how many turkeys have been euthanized since they started searching the farm.