Source: USA Today
McDonald’s has cut ties with one of its chicken suppliers after an animal rights group obtained gruesome video footage that appears to show operators of the Tennessee poultry farm clubbing small and sickly birds to death.
The video taken at T&S Farm in Dukedom, Tenn., which the activist group Mercy for Animals says was secretly recorded by one of the group’s investigators, appears to show a man and woman at the farm pummeling the birds using a pole with a large spike attached to the end of it.
The graphic video, which was viewed by USA TODAY, also shows the workers standing on the birds heads and pulling their bodies to break their necks.
The farm is a contractor for the mega poultry producer Tyson Foods which supplies chicken for McDonald’s, which is the second biggest purchaser of poultry in the USA.
Tyson’s spokesman Worth Sparkman said the company was investigating the video, but “based on what we currently know, we are terminating the farmer’s contract to grow chickens for us.”
“We’re committed to animal well-being but don’t believe this video accurately depicts the treatment of chickens by the thousands of farmers who supply us,” Sparkman said in a statement.
McDonald’s said in a statement that the activity depicted in the video was “unacceptable” and expressed support for Tyson’s decision to end the relationship with the supplier.
“We’re working with Tyson Foods to further investigate this situation and reinforce our expectations around animal health and welfare at the farm level,” the McDonald’s statement said. “We’re committed to working with animal welfare and industry experts to inform our policies that promote better management, strong employee education and verification of practices.”
Vandhana Bala, an attorney for Mercy for Animals, said the video was recorded recently by one of the group’s investigators who applied for a job at T&S and worked at the farm for about four weeks. During that time, she says the investigator witnessed more than 100 instances of abuse of the animals.
Mercy for Animals also says their investigator found that the birds were bred to grow so quickly that they became crippled by their own weight and often died from organ failure. The group also claims that the birds are crammed into sheds where they live in their own waste before being trucked on to the slaughterhouse.
All birds grown at the farm, which has a capacity of more than 120,000 birds, were transported to Tyson’s processing facility in Union City, Tenn., a plant dedicated to making Chicken McNuggets and other chicken products for McDonald’s, according to the group.
“It is important for McDonald’s to take the ethical stance that these sorts of really horrible institutionalized forms of animal abuse be eliminated from its supply chain,” Bala told USA TODAY.
Susan Blassingame, one of the owners of T&S Farm, declined to comment.
The video’s publication comes as America’s top burger chain has been mired in a sales slump and has attempted to bolster the image of its food.
Late last year, McDonald’s posted on YouTube a behind-the-scenes video of one of five U.S. facilities where Chicken McNuggets are produced. The chain decided to lift the veil on how its chicken is made after repeatedly being asked by customers what their nuggets are made of. The chain has also gone to great effort to shake the perception of selling only junk food by offering mandarins in Happy Meals and introducing egg whites to its breakfast menu.
Mercy for Animals has taken aim at suppliers of McDonald’s and other fast food chains in the past.
In 2011, McDonald’s and Target called on its U.S. egg supply chain manager, Cargill Inc., to end its relationship with Sparboe Farms in Litchfield, Minn. after Mercy for Animals published undercover video of farm workers swinging a chicken by a rope or chain and another of a worker shoving a hen in a co-worker’s pants pocket.
A 2012 video showing Idaho dairy workers abusing cows at a farm supplying Burger King led to criminal convictions.
After the Idaho video, lawmakers in that state passed legislation banning undercover videos at factory farms. A federal judge in Idaho, however, ruled earlier this month the state’s ban was unconstitutional because it violated the 1st Amendment. Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Utah and North Carolina have passed similar laws that are currently on the books.
In the new video, Bala said the group decided to obscure the faces of the individuals that appear to be clubbing the birds out of abundance of concern that they not violate state privacy laws. She said the group also on Tuesday turned over the video footage to local law enforcement officials in hopes they’ll prosecute the farmers.
Mercy for Animals officials called on McDonald’s, which has enormous purchasing power, to push its suppliers to make a number of changes to its farming practices, including ending selective breeding practices and providing birds with more space.
“It’s not good enough for McDonald’s to simply end its contract with this one farm,” said group spokesman Matt Rice. “What we’re asking McDonald’s to do is end animal abuse throughout its entire supply chain by adopting meaningful animal welfare requirements for all of its suppliers.”