With Thanksgiving looming around the corner, an animal rights group has levied charges of animal abuse against Butterball, LLC, the country's largest producer of fresh and frozen turkeys.
The allegations, from the Los Angeles-based animal advocacy organization Mercy for Animals, stem from undercover video shot at four Butterball turkey farms in North Carolina. The graphic video, which the group has posted at ButterballAbuse.com, shows the birds being grabbed by the necks, kicked, thrown and general mishandled. According to website, the organization also found "birds suffering from serious untreated illnesses and injuries, including open sores, infections, and broken bones."
"Consumers have a right to know how turkeys are treated at Butterball, before they end up as their Thanksgiving dinner," Matt Rice, director of the investigation for Mercy for Animals, said in a statement to the media. "And I think that most people care about animals, even animals that are raised and killed for food.”
Mercy for Animals documented similar abuse at a Butterball turkey semen collection facility in North Carolina in 2011. That investigation resulted in felony and misdemeanor animal cruelty charges against five Butterball employees, two of whom have since pled guilty. A representative of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture also pled guilty to charges of obstruction of justice after leaking information about the investigation to Butterball.
The organization says it has taken its footage to law-enforcement officials, who are investigating.
Butterball released a statement to the media, saying it has a zero-tolerance policy for animal abuse will take any allegations seriously. Butterball also said it has already suspended the employees shown in the Mercy for Animals video while it investigates if the employees should be fired. "Any employee found to have violated our animal care and well-being guidelines, as well as any employee who witnessed abuse and failed to report it, will be terminated," the statement read. "When we learn of any instances of animal mistreatment, we take immediate corrective action to suspend workers involved, conduct a swift investigation and terminate their employment with the company. Animal care and well-being is central to the operations of our company, and we remain committed to the ethical and responsible care of our turkey flocks."
NBC News talked to industry analyst Phil Lempert, who is also known as the "Supermarket Guru," who said consumers may decide to choose a different brand of turkey if they are aware of the allegations against Butterball. "We have seen a consumer and industry move to more humane treatment of chickens, hogs and cattle and now turkeys," he said. "This Thanksgiving shoppers will be looking at prices and the credibility of the brand that sells them."
In a blog post, Mercy for Animals offered a series of tips and actions for cruelty-free Thanksgiving celebrations, many of which focus on having a vegetarian holiday meal.
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