Pilgrim’s Pride & pride in slaughter
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2004:
MOORFIELD, West Virginia –The poultry processing firm
Pilgrim’s Pride on July 21, 2004 fired three managers and eight
hourly workers at a slaughterhouse in Moorfield, West Virginia,
where a PETA undercover videographer documented workers killing
chickens by stomping them and beating them against walls.
“The move followed an ultimatum by KFC, a major customer,
that it would stop buying chicken from the plant unless there were
assurances that the abuse had stopped,” wrote Barry Shlacter of the
Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
KFC president Gregg Dedrick told Vicki Smith of Associated
Press that KFC will hire a fulltime animal welfare inspector to
monitor the slaughterhouse, which is one of two similar facilities
in Moorfield that are owned by Pilgrim’s Pride. Altogether,
Pilgrim’s Pride employs 2,300 people in a county of under 13,000.
Pilgrim’s Pride, headquartered in Pittsburg, Texas, is the
second-largest poultry producer in the U.S., employing 40,000 people
at 24 slaughterhouses in 17 states, Mexico, and Puerto Rico.
After PETA posted the video on its web site, “The Pilgrim’s
Pride share price fell 3%, while that of KFC’s parent company, Yum
Brands, lost 2%,” Shlacter reported.
PETA disclosed the video three weeks after Colorado State
University humane livestock handling consultant Temple Grandin told
MSNBC reporter Jon Bonne that only about a third of the poultry
slaughterhouses in the U.S. do any sort of animal welfare audit, and
that many of those that do audit are flunking her recommendations
that not more than 1% of birds should suffer broken wings or bruised
thighs or drumsticks, not more than one in 500 should suffer a
broken leg or be hung for killing and bleeding by just one leg, and
not more than half of 1% should be dead on arrival at a
KFC hired Grandin to help improve animal welfare conditions
at company suppliers in response to PETA pressure including at least
one lawsuit and a boycott that was briefly lifted in May 2003, but
was reinstated when KFC failed to meet PETA expectations.
“The chicken industry has some major issues now they’re going
to have to face,” Grandin told MSNBC “When they scream it’s going
to double the price of chickens, that’s B.S.”
Working to reform animal slaughter for more than 30 years,
Grandin teamed with the late Henry Spira, founder of the Coalition
for Non-Violent Food, to introduce the double-rail restrainer system
to kosher slaughterhouses in the early 1980s. In 1991 Grandin wrote
animal handling standards for the American Meat Institute. In 1996
Grandin developed an animal welfare scoring system for USDA audits of
slaughtering plants, and in 1997 she became the top animal welfare
advisor for McDonald’s Restaurants. Two years later Burger King and
Wendy’s also agreed to enforce her recommendations.
Spira sought such agreements with McDonald’s, Burger King, and
Wendy’s, and in 1994 won an agreement in principle from McDonald’s,
with Grandin’s help. PETA began following up Spira’s work about two
years after his 1998 death.
Grandin requires that 95% of the cattle entering a
slaughterhouse be killed with the first shot from a captive bolt gun.
Of 11 plants inspected in 1996, 64% failed. Of 42 plants inspected
three years later, 10% failed, and of 57 plants inspected in 2002,
just 6% failed.
In February 2004 the General Accounting Office disclosed that
the USDA was still not adequately enforcing the 1958 Humane Slaughter
Act despite a reiterated mandate from Congress to do so.
“Three years ago, a Washington Post investigation found that
not only were many animals not stunned before slaughter, but that
some were skinned, dismembered and boiled alive at overtaxed
slaughterhouses,” summarized Frederic J. Frommer of Associated
Press. “Congress responded by providing an additional $5 million for
animal welfare inspections, specifying that the USDA use the money
to hire at least the equivalent of 50 full-time positions to work
solely on humane slaughter. Rather than hire 50 new employees, the
USDA used the money to increase the time that existing inspectors,
whose primary responsibility is food safety, spend enforcing humane
The Washington Post focused on a Humane Farming Association
undercover video that in 2000 showed cattle being skinned alive at a
slaughterhouse in Wallula, Wash-ington, then owned by Iowa Beef
Processors and now operated by Tyson Fresh Meats.
Similar abuses continue at the plant, HFA has alleged. In
late June 2004 HFA sued the Washington state Office of the Attorney
General for allegedly refusing to release relevant public records.
“The lawsuit also accuses the Attorney General’s office and
the Washington State Patrol of showing favoritism toward the plant,
drafting a plan to protect the company, and misusing the public
records law to cover up the alleged favoritism,” reported Donna
Gordon Blankinship of Associated Press.
The Humane Slaughter Act does not even in theory protect
poultry, who constitute more than 95% of all the animals killed for
food in the U.S.
Grandin on several occasions has told ANIMAL PEOPLE that lack
of standards and lack of inspection contribute to cruelty in
slaughterhouses by allowing workers to develop bad attitudes.
Grandin believes that instituting standards improves animal welfare
partly by giving supervisors a goal to meet, but mostly by just
sending the message that preventing animal suffer ing is part of the
The initial problem, she explains, is that humans tend to
respond to the psychological stress associated with killing animals
in three ways: they ritualize it, telling themselves it is for the
best, as humane workers and the rabbis who conduct kosher slaughter
usually do; they distance themselves, often through daydreaming
and/or the aid of substance abuse; or they become sadistic.
Slaughterhouse workers tend to be young and poorly educated.
They take their behavioral cues from their supervisors, Grandin
says. If the supervisors are sadistic, or allow sadism, conditions
deteriorate rapidly. If the supervisors are absent, or abuse drugs
or alcohol, absenteeism and substance abuse among the line staff
At the best slaughterhouses, Grandin says, jobs are rotated
to reduce stress.
“No one should have to kill animals all day,” Grandin states.
Reported Bonne of MSNBC, “One of Grandin’s first projects,
Swift’s plant in Greeley, Colorado, serves as her showpiece and
Said Swift & Company vice president for food safety and
quality assurance Warren Mirthsching of the 2,600 Greeley workers,
“Hopefully they treat their kids the way they treat these animals.”
That would lend new meaning to the PETA slogan that “Meat is murder.”
The mayhem at Pilgrim’s Pride is reportedly under
investigation by Hardy County prosecutor Lucas Lee to see if criminal
charges can be laid.
Whether or not anyone is convicted, the supervisory failure
it indicated underscored Grandin’s argument. PETA said the
undercover videographer also obtained eyewitness testimony about
workers tearing the wings, beaks, and heads off of live birds,
spray-painting their faces, and spitting tobacco into their crops
and eyes. Hired by Pilgrim’s Pride in September 2003, the
investigator documented the abuses until he quit the job in May 2004.
“The immediate supervisor was definitely aware of it,” the
investigator anonymously told Shlacter. “He would come in once or
twice a day and witness birds being slammed against the wall.
Neither the workers nor the supervisor wanted to work overtime, so
they’d throw chickens against the wall” when more arrived from
suppliers than could be processed in an eight-hour shift, the
investigator said. The investigator told Shlacter that the
supervisor received the same salary regardless of the hours he
worked, and did not want to pay overtime wages to hourly workers.
The Pilgrim’s Pride slaughterhouse operated two shifts per
day. The investigator said he saw similar abuses on both shifts.
Pilgrim’s Pride president and chief operating officer O.B.
Goolsby criticized PETA for not making the mayhem known to the
company earlier. “Disciplinary action would have been taken many
months ago, and chickens would have been spared from suffering,”
The investigator told Shlacter that he did report the abuse
anonymously on a company hotline in June 2004.
The Pilgrim’s Pride case broke two weeks after the Scientific
Panel on Animal Health & Welfare of the European Food Safety
Authority published recommendations for “effective stunning and
killing of animals to avoid pain and minimize suffering.” The
recommendations pertain to cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, horses,
and farmed fish.
The recommendations were published six weeks after the
Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten disclosed that European Union
inspectors found serious animal welfare violations at three
slaughterhouses and a farm.
“We can’t do anything but bow to this criticism,” responded
Norwegian food industry chief regulator Espen Engh.
“We have repeatedly received tips from workers about
conditions at Norwegian slaughterhouses, but have not been allowed
to document them,” Live Kleveland Karlsrud of the Animal Protection