Global poultry grower Aviagen Inc. said Wednesday it has suspended a supervisor and would investigate a video released by an animal rights group that appears to show horrific abuse of turkeys at the company's West Virginia farms.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said the video, which includes workers stomping on turkeys' heads and twisting their necks to kill them, was shot by an undercover investigator who worked on the companies' farms for more than two months.
Click here to watch the video. (WARNING: EXTREMELY GRAPHIC).
The undercover worker, who was not identified, described stifling, dusty barns where the animals were kept and caught video of several workers killing turkeys, slamming them into metal cages and bragging about previous abuse of the animals.
The New York Times first reported the allegations.
Representatives of subsidiary Aviagen Turkeys Inc. on Tuesday were shown the video that "appears to show inappropriate actions and violations of our animal welfare policies," the company said in a statement.
"We condemn any abuse of the animals in our care and will take swift action to address these issues," the statement said. The company said it was investigating the actions and workers shown in the video and they could be fired. The supervisor involved has been suspended pending the outcome.
PETA filed a criminal complaint on Tuesday alleging animal cruelty, according to the Greenbrier County Sheriff's Department.
In West Virginia, felony animal cruelty can be punished by one to three years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines.
Sherrie Rosenblatt of the National Turkey Federation in Washington, D.C., questioned the timing of PETA's sting.
"I think it's interesting that PETA, allegedly this vegetarian group, would go into a place and actually see something that is not common, and not say anything about it until about a week before Thanksgiving," Rosenblatt told Associated Press Television Network on Wednesday. "To me that is not making sure there is ethical treatment of animals, but it's more about public relations propaganda.
"The turkey industry really takes pride in the health and well being of its flock because that's the way we can provide safe and nutritional and affordable foods for consumers especially around Thanksgiving when everyone is going to have turkey at the center of the plate."
Rosenblatt said industry guidelines for turkey handling have been in place since 1980 and called the video "very much an isolated incident."
PETA spokesman Bruce Friedrich in Washington, D.C., said Wednesday the timing was only a coincidence.
"We did actually complain about it more than a month ago and nothing changed," Friedrich said. "The company president responded to our letter and said they would take appropriate action, but the gratuitous abuse continued."
Norfolk, Va.-based PETA campaigns most years against the practices of turkey growers before Thanksgiving and encourages Americans to find vegetarian substitutes for the bird, such as tofu. The video showing the turkey abuse was posted on PETA's Web site.
In 2004, PETA carried out a similar undercover video sting in West Virginia against Texas-based Pilgrim's Pride at the company's Moorefield plant.
The company fired 11 employees and provided animal cruelty training throughout its North American operations after that, but a Hardy County grand jury in 2005 refused to indict any of the workers involved.