CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A supplier for Kentucky Fried Chicken (search) suspended a worker without pay and is investigating three others after an animal rights group released video of workers kicking, stomping and throwing birds against walls at a West Virginia plant.
Pilgrim's Pride (search) President and Chief Operating Officer O.B. Goolsby said in a statement late Tuesday that in addition to the suspension and investigation, the company has ordered managers at all 25 of its plants in the nation to take time out on each shift to educate workers about animal welfare policies.
Employees who handle live birds must sign a document saying they understand the zero-tolerance policy for animal cruelty, he said.
Company spokesman Ray Atkinson did not immediately return a telephone call Wednesday morning seeking additional comment on the disciplinary action.
The footage, released online Tuesday, was secretly taken at the Pilgrim's Pride plant in Moorefield, W.Va., by an investigator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (search) who worked there from October to May.
Hardy County Prosecutor Lucas See said Wednesday that he has received videotapes from PETA but has not reviewed them yet. PETA wants West Virginia authorities to prosecute plant employees and managers.
Under state law, employees found to have mistreated the animals solely for torture could be charged with a felony animal cruelty, which carries a possible prison sentence of one to three years and as much as $5,000 in fines.
KFC spokeswoman Bonnie Warschauer said in a statement Tuesday that KFC told Pilgrim's Pride it will buy no more chickens from its Moorefield plant unless the supplier provides assurances that the abuses are no longer taking place.
KFC also said it has hired an inspector trained in animal welfare investigations whose job will be to prevent similar abuses at the plant.
PETA said its investigator at the West Virginia plant also obtained eyewitness testimony about employees "ripping birds' beaks off, spray-painting their faces, twisting their heads off, spitting tobacco into their mouths and eyes, and breaking them in half -- all while the birds are still alive."
PETA has been pressuring KFC since last year, when it sued the company and called for a boycott, demanding that KFC require suppliers to treat animals more humanely. The group has recently won similar concessions from other major fast-food chains, including McDonald's and Burger King.