The New York Times, Donald G. McNeil Jr., July 20, 2004
An animal rights group involved in a long legal dispute with Kentucky Fried
Chicken about the treatment of the 700 million chickens it buys each year is
to release a videotape today showing slaughterhouse workers for one supplier
jumping up and down on live chickens, drop-kicking them like footballs and
slamming them into walls, apparently for fun.
After officials of the KFC Corporation saw the videotape yesterday, they
said they would seek dismissal of the workers, inspect the slaughterhouse
more often and end their relationship if the cruelty was repeated. The
company that owns the slaughterhouse, the Pilgrim's Pride Corporation, the
country's second-largest poultry processor, said it was "appalled" by the
Animal rights groups have long complained that sheer malicious behavior - on
top of the expected confinement and bloodletting - goes on in slaughter
plants, but this is the first time such graphic proof has been produced. The
tape was taken surreptitiously by an investigator for People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals who worked from October 2003 to May 2004 at a Pilgrim's
Pride plant in Moorefield, W.Va., that won KFC's "Supplier of the Year"
award in 1997.
KFC and its parent, Yum Brands, have repeatedly committed themselves to a
promise that all suppliers would treat animals humanely. Yesterday, a
spokeswoman for KFC said the company "wouldn't tolerate the type of behavior
in the video."
KFC "will require that the employee or employees responsible be terminated,"
said Bonnie Warschauer, director of public relations, and further violations
will "result in termination of our relationship."
Prominent veterinarians, including those on the company's animal welfare
advisory board, called for shutting the plant and dismissing or prosecuting
its managers. Dr. Ian J. H. Duncan, an animal and poultry science professor
at the University of Guelph in Ontario, who is a KFC adviser, said the tape
"contains some of the worst scenes of animal cruelty that I have ever
A Pilgrim's Pride spokesman said the company had an anonymous report about
poultry mistreatment at the plant in April and had made it clear to its
workers that "any such behavior would result in immediate termination." In
light of the tape, the company said, it will reopen its investigation.
The tape includes loud music the workers listen to, the screeching of the
birds and the sound of each hitting the wall. When released, it will be on a
Web site of the animal-rights group, which is known as PETA, at
The undercover investigator, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he
feared retaliation and still does undercover work for the group, said in a
telephone interview that he saw "hundreds" of acts of cruelty, including
workers tearing beaks off, ripping a bird's head off to write graffiti in
blood, spitting tobacco juice into birds' mouths, plucking feathers to "make
it snow," suffocating a chicken by tying a latex glove over its head, and
squeezing birds like water balloons to spray feces over other birds.
He said the behavior was "to alleviate boredom or vent frustrations,"
especially when so many birds were coming in that they would have to work
On April 6, one day he filmed, workers made a game of throwing chickens
against a wall; 114 were thrown in seven minutes. A supervisor walking past
the pile of birds on the floor said, "Hold your fire," and, once out of the
way, told the crew to "carry on."
On another day, he said, the supervisor told the crew to kill correctly
because inspectors were visiting.
To document cruelty and position his tiny camera, he said, he spent eight
months working in the "hang pen," where workers attach newly arrived
chickens by their feet to a conveyor that carries them upside-down through
an electrified "stun bath" and then into the whirling blades of the
KFC says all its suppliers train their workers in animal welfare, but the
investigator said Pilgrim's Pride had nothing on the topic in its
orientation manual and the only instruction he received was after five
months, and then only in how to wring a chicken's neck by hand. The Web site
of Pilgrim's Pride does not note any animal welfare policy.
Last year, PETA sued Kentucky Fried Chicken and called for a boycott,
demanding that it require its suppliers to give chickens more room in
factory barns, stop forcing growth so rapid that it cripples birds, and to
gas birds before hanging them so they feel no pain.
The group has won similar concessions from Burger King, McDonald's and
Yum Brands did not do as PETA requested, but its KFC Web site says the
company is "committed to the humane treatment of animals." It describes
steps taken to assure such treatment, including creating an advisory council
and promising to "only deal with suppliers who provide an environment that
is free from cruelty, abuse and neglect."
Dr. Temple Grandin, a well-known veterinary scientist who designs plants for
humane slaughter, called the behavior shown on the videotape "absolutely
Dr. Grandin is on KFC's animal welfare advisory board, but said PETA had not
told her when it sent her the tape this month where it had been taken. "They
need to fire the plant manager," she said.
Both Ms. Warschauer of KFC and a spokesman for Pilgrim's Pride said they
would ask Dr. Grandin to visit the plant.
PETA said it planned to ask a West Virginia prosecutor to prosecute plant
employees and managers under state laws that make torture or malicious
killing of animals a felony. It has also written to KFC and Pilgrim's Pride,
asking them to use gas to knock the animals out before they are killed and
to mount video cameras to forestall employee cruelty.
The PETA investigator said he would testify, calling it "the right thing to
Several American and British veterinary experts to whom PETA sent the
videotape expressed disgust.
"I have visited many poultry slaughterhouses but I have never seen cruelty
to chickens to the extent shown in this video," said Dr. Donald M. Broom,
professor of animal welfare at Cambridge University and chairman of the
European Union's animal welfare scientific committee. "It would be grounds
for a successful prosecution for cruelty to animals in most countries."
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.|
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150