Butterball’s Culture of Cruelty

Mercy For Animals has conducted multiple undercover investigations at Butterball factory farms and uncovered horrific animal abuse, including workers viciously beating animals, that has led to criminal convictions of Butterball workers.

2014 Investigation

Mercy For Animals’ 2014 investigation at a Butterball turkey hatchery exposed sickening cruelty to animals, including:

  • Newborn birds roughly and mechanically separated from their shells, often getting stuck and mangled in factory machinery
  • Turkeys having their toes and beaks cut and burned off without any painkillers
  • Workers carelessly throwing, dropping, and shoving baby birds with no regard for their welfare
  • Injured birds being dropped into a macerator to be ground up alive

2012 Investigation

Another undercover investigation by Mercy For Animals at multiple Butterball factory farms showed that animal abuse continued to run rampant. The investigation exposed:

  • Workers kicking and stomping on birds, dragging them by their fragile wings and necks, and maliciously throwing turkeys onto the ground or on top of other birds
  • Turkeys with open sores, infections, broken bones, and other severe injuries left to suffer without proper veterinary care
  • Workers grabbing birds by their wings or necks and violently slamming them into tiny transport crates with no regard for their welfare

2011 Investigation

In 2011, an MFA undercover investigator documented a pattern of shocking abuse and neglect at a Butterball turkey semen collection facility in Shannon, North Carolina. Hidden-camera footage taken at this Butterball factory farm revealed:

  • Workers violently kicking and stomping on birds, dragging them by their fragile wings and necks, and maliciously throwing turkeys onto the ground or into transport trucks in full view of company management
  • Employees bashing in the heads of live birds with metal bars, leaving many to slowly suffer and die from their injuries
  • Turkeys covered in flies, living in their own waste, with some unable to access food or water and suffering from severe feather loss
  • Birds suffering from serious untreated illnesses and injuries, including open sores, infections, rotting eyes, and broken bones
  • Severely injured turkeys, unable to stand up or walk, left to die without any veterinary care, because treating sick or injured birds was too costly and time consuming, as the farm manager explained to MFA's investigator

Arrests and Convictions

Following each of these investigations, MFA immediately went to law enforcement with extensive video footage and detailed legal complaints outlining the routine violence and cruelty documented at Butterball.

Based on the evidence from the 2011 investigation, state law enforcement officials obtained a warrant and raided the Butterball facility on grounds of cruelty to animals. The raid led to felony and misdemeanor animal cruelty charges and convictions against five Butterball workers, including the first-ever felony cruelty to animals conviction related to birds used for food production in U.S. history.

Additionally, Dr. Sarah Jean Mason, the director of Animal Health Programs with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, pled guilty to obstruction of justice charges after admitting to leaking confidential information to Butterball and potentially compromising the criminal cruelty investigation by state law enforcement officials.

Spare a Turkey

Unfortunately, the lives of turkeys in Butterball's factory farms are short, brutal, and filled with fear, violence, and constant suffering. While wild turkeys are sleek, agile, and able to fly, Butterball's turkeys have been selectively bred to grow so large, so quickly, that many of them suffer from painful bone defects, hip joint lesions, crippling foot and leg deformities, and fatal heart attacks.

Even though domestic turkeys have been genetically manipulated for enormous growth, these birds still retain their gentle, inquisitive, and social natures. Oregon State University poultry scientist Dr. Tom Savage says that turkeys are “smart animals with personality and character, and keen awareness of their surroundings.”

In fact, animal behaviorists, veterinarians, and scientists agree that turkeys are sensitive and intelligent animals with their own unique personalities, much like the dogs and cats we all know and love.

As the world's largest producer of turkey meat, Butterball is responsible for 20 percent of the 252 million turkeys raised and killed for food each year in the United States, and 30 percent of the 46 million turkeys who are killed for Thanksgiving.

While MFA works to expose and end animal abuse at Butterball and other giants of the meat, dairy, and egg industries, consumers can help prevent the needless suffering of turkeys and other animals by adopting a compassionate vegan diet.