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Sadistic Cruelty Alleged in Chicken Slaughterhouse: PETA Calls for Prosecution of KFC Supplier

PETA call for prosecution sent to local D.A.

February 18, 2003

The Honorable Tim Williamson, Prosecuting Attorney
Polk County Prosecutor's Office
P.O. Drawer 109
600 Port Arthur St.
Mena, AR 71953

7 pages via fax: 479-394-6173

Re: Request for Prosecutorial Action for Cruelty to Animals at Tyson Foods, Inc., in Grannis, Ark.

Dear Mr. Williamson:

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is the world’s largest animal rights organization, with more than 750,000 members and supporters dedicated to ending animal suffering. I am writing to bring to your attention the attached signed statement of a former employee of a Tyson Foods, Inc., chicken slaughterhouse located in Grannis that describes egregious violations of Arkansas’ animal cruelty statute. The statement describes the conduct of Richard Frasier, a night shift superintendent; Ed Taylor, a supervisor; Troy Shepmann and Aron Harris, two kill-floor employees; and George Watson, a forklift operator, at the Tyson facility on Highway 71S in Grannis, Arkansas, at various times over the past 18 months. The Arkansas Code prohibits cruelty to animals and defines each individual violation as a Class A misdemeanor. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-62-101(b). Specifically, the “Cruelty to animals” statute provides that: “[a] person commits the offense of cruelty to animals if, except as authorized by law, he knowingly: … Subjects any animal to cruel mistreatment.” Ark. Code Ann. § 5-62-101(a)(2) (emphasis added). Under Section 5-62-110(a) (“Definitions”), “animal” is defined to include “… every living creature”; “cruelty” is “… every act, omission, or neglect whereby unjustifiable physical pain, suffering, or death is caused or permitted”; and the definitions for “owner” and “person” include "… corporations as well as individuals.” As will be clear from the attached statement signed on January 30, 2003, by Virgil Butler (an employee of the facility for more than five years in the receiving department and on the kill floor and a sworn eyewitness to all the alleged incidents described herein), the state statute was violated on numerous occasions. A summary of each incident along with comments from animal welfare experts can be found below. On behalf of our members, I respectfully ask that you use the full authority of your office to investigate these matters immediately and that you file appropriate charges against any and all persons responsible, including the Tyson corporation itself—which can be held culpable under the aforementioned definition of “person,” especially considering that Frasier held a position of upper-level management at the time of these incidents and was directly responsible for decision-making on behalf of the company.

Background on the Chicken Slaughter Process

To provide a context for Butler’s statement, here is a brief description of the slaughter process and the terminology used in a typical slaughterhouse: After arriving at the facility, live chickens are hung upside-down on moving overhead rails by workers (called “shacklers”) who force the birds’ legs into shackles, which are passing by at an extremely rapid pace. The rail then takes the hanging birds to the stun bath, where some are immobilized as they pass through an electrified water bath (others are able to avoid the bath altogether by lifting their heads and thus remain fully conscious). Next, they proceed through the “killing machine”—a mechanized rotating blade that is supposed to slice the chickens’ throats (again, some birds avoid the blade altogether by moving their heads as they approach). The birds then move past a “killer,” whose job is to manually cut the throats of all the birds missed by the “killing machine,” or otherwise not effectively cut by it. The birds are then conveyed into the “scalders,” tanks of scalding hot water, to facilitate feather removal.

Spring 2002 Incident Involving Richard Frasier (Superintendent) and Ed Taylor (Supervisor)
Described in Paragraph 6 of Virgil Butler’s Statement

One night in spring 2002, according to the statement, hydraulic pressure was lost at the facility, which shut down the “killing machine.” Instead of stopping operations until the hydraulic pressure was restored, Frasier and Taylor reportedly decided to keep the line moving and ordered the “killer,” in this case Harris, to attempt to manually cut all the birds’ throats before they entered the scalding tank. However, with so many live birds on a fast-moving line, Harris was unable to kill every one. As a result, “several hundred” chickens were scalded alive, while both Frasier and Taylor allegedly were fully aware yet allowed the birds to die a painful death. When chickens are scalded alive, according to Butler, they “flop, scream, kick, and their eyeballs pop out of their heads. Then, they often come out the other end with broken bones and disfigured and missing body parts because they’ve struggled so much in the tank.” Animal welfare experts agree that scalding conscious birds involves unjustifiable pain, suffering, and death (we would be happy to provide you with copies of any of the expert statements referred to herein). Professor Ian Duncan, chair of animal welfare at the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at the University of Guelph, explains that if stunned chickens missed both the “killing machine” and the “killer,” as is the case reported by Butler, there would be sufficient time for the birds to regain consciousness before they entered the scalding tank. This would involve “excruciating pain [because] the temperature of the scald tank is typically 135-140°F which is well above the pain threshold” and would be “almost exactly the same pain as those [who were not stunned or cut at all]” because of the likelihood of recovery on the bleed rail.

July 2002 Incident Involving Richard Frasier (Superintendent)
Described in Paragraph 8 of Virgil Butler’s Statement

According to the statement, on one night in July 2002, Frasier ordered that the line speed be increased in order to avoid working overtime. This caused the area where the birds await shackling to become overcrowded, and hundreds of chickens are alleged to have suffocated to death under the weight of other chickens. Reportedly, Frasier was fully aware of the torturous implications that this decision had on the birds, as he is quoted as saying, “I would rather smother a few hundred goddamned birds than to lose time because of empty shackles.” Animal welfare experts agree that the deliberate suffocation of chickens leads to unjustifiable pain, suffering, and death. Duncan writes that being smothered and suffocated to death in such a fashion “would result in extreme panic and stress and a great deal of suffering.”

September 2002 Incident Involving Richard Frasier (Superintendent)
Described in Paragraph 15 of Virgil Butler’s Statement

According to the statement, shipments of birds too large to fit the spacing of the facility’s shackles were received several times, including in the week ending September 14, 2002. On this occasion, Frasier reportedly decided not to bother to readjust the shackles to fit the new birds’ size and instead ordered the shacklers to break the legs of hundreds of live chickens by shoving them into the smaller shackles rather than “lose the production time to do it.” Animal welfare experts agree that breaking a fully conscious chicken’s legs causes unjustifiable pain and suffering. Duncan writes that “trying to force [a chicken’s leg] into shackles that are so small that the legs get broken will result in extreme pain. Moreover, every vibration that the bird receives while travelling to the stun bath will result in agonising pain.” Professor Joy Mench of the Department of Animal Science at the University of California at Davis writes that in a chicken, “[b]one breakage would be considered to cause similar pain as in a human.”

June 2002 Incident Involving Troy Shepmann (Kill-Floor Employee)
Described in Paragraph 12 of Virgil Butler’s Statement

According to the statement, on numerous occasions, Shepmann built “dry ice bombs” out of dry ice, water, and plastic bottles and positioned them on the belt with live chickens, which “rip[ped] the chickens’ bodies apart” when they exploded. In one particular incident in June 2002, Shepmann reportedly inserted dry ice directly into a live chicken’s rectum, then “plug[ged] it with a wooden cork,” which “built up enough pressure inside the chicken to blow it apart.”

Animal welfare experts agree that such malicious and intentional torture causes unjustifiable pain, suffering, and death. Duncan writes that this type of behavior would “result in excruciating pain. The gastro-intestinal mucosa are well supplied with pain receptors, particularly stretch receptors, which would be grossly distended by the expanding gas.” Mench writes that “the pain associated with [such an action] would be intense, and [this] would certainly be considered to be [an act] of cruelty …”

Incidents involving George Watson (Forklift Operator)
Described in Paragraph 14 of Virgil Butler’s Statement

Butler states that Watson allegedly ran over chickens with a forklift intentionally and “then laugh[ed] about it” and that “[t]hese kinds of incidents sometimes led to hours of suffering for chickens with broken legs and wings and were ongoing and repetitive—just a part of a regular night’s work.”

Animal welfare experts agree that such malicious and intentional torture would lead to unjustifiable pain, suffering, and death.

May 2001 through November 2002 Incidents involving Aron Harris (Kill-Floor Employee)
Described in Paragraph 13 of Virgil Butler’s Statement

According to the statement, on numerous occasions between May 2001 and November 2002, Harris allegedly ripped the “heads, legs, and wings off of live chickens, or just stomp[ed] them to death on the floor because he was aggravated.”

Animal welfare experts agree that such malicious and intentional dismemberment would lead to unjustifiable pain, suffering, and death. Duncan writes that “this would cause excruciating pain. Pain receptors at the skin surface and in the joints would be maximally stimulated.” Mench writes that “I can think of no reason except cruelty for anyone to stomp a chicken to death …”

Need for Prosecutorial Action

Because chickens are not afforded federal protection from such acts of cruelty at slaughterhouses and are exempt from the “Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act” (United States Code, Title 7, Ch. 48), there can be no legitimate reason to defer action on this matter—it is clearly a matter for the state to prosecute. The evidence clearly indicates that each of the above-named individuals acted “knowingly” (in fact, intentionally and with deliberate forethought) in perpetrating the acts of cruelty witnessed by Butler and thus are criminally liable for their actions. Tyson and its employees must not be permitted by the state to continue to behave as if they are exempt from state law and have no responsibility for the minimum welfare of the billions of chickens they kill.

Should you need references to other animal welfare experts or to schedule an interview with Virgil Butler or if I can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me. I can be reached by telephone at 757-622-7382, or by fax at 757-628-0781. I look forward to your response and thank you in advance for your consideration.

Cem Akin, Research Associate
Research & Investigations Department

enclosure: Virgil Butler‘s statement, signed January 30, 2003

cc: Sheriff Michael Oglesby, Polk County Sheriff’s Office (fax: 479-394-1975)

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