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

PETA calls for prosecution sent to USDA

February 18, 2003

Dr. Garry L. McKee, Administrator
c/o Linda Swacina, Acting Administrator
Food Safety Inspection Service
1400 Independence Ave. S.W.
Whitten Bldg., Rm. 331E
Washington, DC 20250

5 pages via fax: 202-690-0550

Dear Dr. McKee:

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. We write to bring your attention to the attached statement signed by an ex-employee of the Tyson Foods, Inc., chicken slaughterhouse in Grannis, Ark., attesting to the facility management’s routine practice of knowingly allowing fully conscious chickens to be scalded to death. On behalf of our members, we respectfully ask that you investigate these allegations and penalize Tyson to the fullest extent of the law in order to prevent such atrocities from recurring.

Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulations require that “[p]oultry must be slaughtered in accordance with good commercial practices in a manner that will result in thorough bleeding of the carcasses and ensure that breathing has stopped prior to scalding.” 9 C.F.R. § 381.65(b) (emphasis added). Violations of this regulation subject the offender to prosecution pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 461 which provides for a fine of not more than $1,000 or imprisonment of not more than one year, at a minimum. See also 21 U.S.C. §§ 458, 459. Moreover, the FSIS is authorized to take a variety of steps which include the suspension or withdrawal of inspection services. 9 C.F.R. §§ 500.1-.8. The attached statement, signed on January 30, 2003, by Virgil Butler—an employee of Tyson for more than five years on the kill floor and in the receiving department of the Grannis facility—describes numerous eyewitness violations of 9 C.F.R. § 381.65(b).

For example, one night in the spring of 2002, according to the statement, hydraulic pressure was lost at the facility, resulting in a failure of the “killing machine,” which is a mechanized, rotating blade that cuts the throats of chickens prior to entering the scalding tank. Instead of stopping operations until the hydraulic pressure was repaired, Richard Frasier (the superintendent) and Ed Taylor (the supervisor) reportedly decided to keep the line moving and ordered the “killer,” who is the employee assigned to manually cutting the throats of the birds missed by the “killing machine” (in this case, Aron Harris), to attempt to cut the throats of all the birds before they reached the scalding tank. With so many live birds on a fast-moving line, however, Harris was reportedly unable to kill every one. As a result, “several hundred” chickens were scalded while still fully conscious, with both Frasier and Taylor allegedly fully aware of their obviously extremely painful deaths in violation of 9 C.F.R. § 381.65(b).

Aside from this incident, Mr. Butler’s statement indicates that even in the normal course of operations, as a result of fast-moving lines, it was physically impossible for the “killer” to cut all the birds who missed the “killing machine,” resulting in more birds being scalded alive. Whenever this happens, the statement reads, “the chickens 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.” Clearly, these animals did not stop breathing prior to being scalded, thus Section 381.65(b) was violated repeatedly.

It has been shown that the inhalation of bacteria-laden water during slaughter can potentially contaminate a chicken’s respiratory tract and eventually leak onto edible portions of the carcass during evisceration (Gregory NG, Whittington PE, “Inhalation of Water During Electrical Stunning in Chickens,” Research in Veterinary Science , 53: 362). In addition to this food-safety concern, however, there are devastating welfare consequences for those birds who are scalded to death while they are still fully conscious. Animal welfare experts will agree that the scalding of conscious birds would involve unjustifiable pain and suffering. 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 Mr. 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.

This evidence suggests that fully conscious, breathing chickens recently entered the scalding tank at the Tyson slaughterhouse on Highway 71S in Grannis, Ark., on a routine basis, each incident of which is a clear violation of the “Poultry Products Inspection Regulations.” Again, we respectfully ask that you investigate these allegations and impose the maximum penalty allowed under the Poultry Products Inspection Act as well as increase inspections at this and other Tyson facilities for scalding-tank violations. If these concerns are not addressed, Tyson will continue to behave as if it has no responsibility to meet even the minimal and totally inadequate federal regulations regarding poultry or concern itself at all with the welfare of the billions of chickens it kills.

Should you need references to other animal welfare experts or if you would like to schedule an interview with Virgil Butler, please let us know. I can be reached at 757-622-7382, or faxed at 757-628-0781. We 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: The Honorable Ann M. Veneman, Secretary of Agriculture

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