'Hit him on the head, then kill him': Tyson Foods responds to mistreatment in video
TEMPERANCEVILLE, Va. (Delmarva Now) -- Tyson Foods officials responded this week to a video published by an animal advocacy group that shows Tyson Foods contractors appearing to mistreat chickens at an Accomack County farm in Virginia.
The nearly four-minute-long video from the group Compassion Over Killing appears to show workers inside a chickenhouse at a farm, which was identified by the group as being in Temperanceville, Virginia. Some birds are shown being crushed after being run over by a forklift, while others are hit with sticks, and a worker is shown impaling a live chick with a metal nail at the end of a stick.
A man is heard telling another worker, "I know it's hard to catch them. Have a stick, right? You need to kill him? Hit him on the head, then kill him."
Two Tyson officials responded to the video's content in an emailed statement.
“We’re outraged by what’s shown in this video. The actions of these people are egregious, inexcusable and will not be tolerated by Tyson Foods. It’s our responsibility to ensure that everyone who works for and raises animals for our company treats animals properly," said Doug Ramsey, group president of poultry for Tyson Foods.
Ramsey said the company, within an hour of officials viewing the video, confirmed the owner and location of the farm — identified by Compassion over Killing as Atlantic Farm in Temperanceville.
"We are terminating the contract with the farmer who allowed these actions to take place and are removing any of our birds from his care," he said.
Ten employees of the contract chicken catching crew shown in the video were fired Tuesday morning, according to Ramsey.
Another Tyson official said the workers shown in the video "were trained in proper animal handling, yet chose to ignore their training. They failed to alert management about the treatment on this farm and utterly failed to uphold a simple Tyson Foods core value of treating animals in their care humanely."
Justin Whitmore, chief sustainability officer and executive vice president of corporate strategy for Tyson Foods, also said dedication to treating animals properly is "a non-negotiable condition of employment or any contract agreement with Tyson Foods."
Compassion Over Killing was founded in 1995 and is headquartered in Washington, D.C. The organization "focuses on cruelty to animals in agriculture and promotes vegetarian eating as a way to build a kinder world for all of us, both human and nonhuman," according to its website.
In the video, a narrator urges viewers to "ask Tyson to stop breeding birds for rapid growth."
In addition to terminating the farmer’s contract, a spokesman for Tyson Foods said the company this week will conduct a video conference with live production management at all its locations in which senior poultry management officials "will stress our cultural commitment to proper animal handling."
Additionally, the company will immediately begin to meet with everyone who handles live birds in its chicken operations "to aggressively re-emphasize that every individual who works for our company is responsible for proper animal handling," spokesman Worth Sparkman said.
The company has almost 60 full-time "dedicated animal well-being specialists across our beef, pork and poultry operations" and also has animal well-being audit and training programs in place, he said, adding, "Tyson Foods is firmly committed to ensuring that our animal well-being policies are followed with a zero tolerance for anyone who does not comply."
An Eastern Shore of Virginia resident and animal-rights activist commented Wednesday on the video and Tyson's response to it.
Karen Davis, founder of United Poultry Concerns in Machipongo, said she is "very familiar" with the group that published the video.
"We are all colleagues; we all work together," said Davis, who founded her organization in 1990 and has been involved in animal rights advocacy since the mid-1980s. United Poultry Concerns promotes "an animal-free diet," she said.
Actions like those shown in the video are not unusual in the poultry industry, she said.
"What is always shown and discovered at every single facility and every operation along the process, from hatchery to slaughter plant, shows the same worker abuses of the chickens," Davis said.
"These are environments where workers can do anything they want to the birds and get away with it, because that's the culture and that's the nature of the workplace," she said.
In 2016, Compassion over Killing released a video of Tysons employees at four Virginia facilities that appeared to show mistreatment of birds.
Of Tyson's response to the new video, Davis said when one of the poultry production companies is targeted in an investigation, "they all have exactly the same rhetoric, you know — 'We fired the employees that were caught doing this and we don't tolerate that kind of behavior and we require that the birds be treated (well).'
"That's the rhetoric, but that's not the reality — not even close," Davis said.