Behind the scenes of the fight for the protection of animals and workers and the preservation of the environment - my experiences as a Tyson slaughterhouse hanger/killer turned activist. Exposing the evils of factory farming, by Virgil Butler. If you have arrived here looking for the Tyson stories, view the early archives. Some of them are now featured on the sidebar for easy searching.
Thursday, July 29, 2004
Chicken Cruelty, USA (Part Two)
This post today was prompted by a message I read today in a Care2 network message that had a link to KFC's press release stating their reaction to the video footage taken at the Pilgrim's Pride plant. I followed that link to see what they had to say about this and what they intended to do about it. Respectively, a lot and not much, as it turns out. I had a letter to the editor published, there have been some good op-edspublished, and I have written extensively on this before, but I will discuss this further here because some people are still not seeming to get the message due to highly paid corporate spin doctors. So, I will try to set the record straight.
While KFC, Pilgrim's Pride, and the entire industry are busy spraining their wrists patting themselves on the back for the way this has been handled, we have to look not just at what they are saying, but what they are not saying, to understand what the true situation is. (Of course, regular readers and fellow activists have a pretty good idea, but I still get a lot of people here that are new to the cold, hard facts about this industry.)
Their very first statement is a lie in that they claim that they are "setting the record straight, " when all they are truly doing is trying to keep people buying their chicken without guilt. And, it gets worse from there, although they do mix just enough truth in there to make it convincing to those that don't know any better. So, I will set it straight for them.
They, along with the entire industry, is trying to play this off as an isolated incident involving "a few bad apples." I even saw them referred to as "knuckleheads" in one industry article. You can almost hear the chuckle in the sentence it is used in and see the person shaking their head in fake consternation at such odd behavior. The truth is that this kind of behavior is widespread and happens industry-wide. I have seen it personally in two different plants and heard about it happening in others from other workers. It's anything but isolated.
They also claim that they will not buy chicken from that plant until they are assured that such things are not happening there anymore. Now, I find this hard to believe, unless they have a much different arrangement up there than what I have found to be the norm in the industry. In order to be sure that they did not get chicken from that plant, I would think that they would have to not buy any at all from Pilgrim's Pride because each kill plant sends their dead chickens on to a further processing plant, where they are mixed together with the chickens from the other kill plants that serve an area (usually - very few plants kill and process). Each company, like KFC, buys from the central distribution center of the supplier, where all the meat is stored. Since the industry has fought tooth and nail against mandatory COOL legislation, there is no way for them to know which chicken came from which kill plant. I don't see how they could make sure that the chicken they are buying didn't come from there.
Now, they do have a valid point when they say that they are not the only customers buying this chicken. The average American going to the store is just as likely to get some of it as they are. Who knows? If you doubt that, try asking the person at the store what plant the meat they are selling came from. I just about guarantee that they can't tell you. Ask the person at KFC where their chicken came from. They can't tell you, either. All they can tell you (at most) is what company it came from.
When they start talking about their animal welfare guidelines is really where there start getting to be problems. They aren't even following the recommendations of their own committee they set up a while back. Several of the people making those recommendations that KFC didn't like are no longer on that committee.
This is also part of the reason PETA is targeting them. At one time KFC and PETA were negotiating back when the committee was formed. This was around the time that my allegations had come to light and so embarrassed Tyson and KFC. PETA came forth with a reasonable list of recommendations, then the negotiations were abruptly called off by KFC after they didn't get the answers they wanted from their own hastily-formed animal welfare committee, who mostly agreed with PETA. So, rightfully, PETA turned up the heat a bit. They have no one to blame but themselves. You can't claim to be a "leader" in animal welfare issues if you don't make leading changes.
Then, of course, they just start resorting to the ol' character assassination trick. Anything to get peoples' minds off the fact that workers were caught on tape doing horrible things to chickens that could easily have been headed for KFC. Much easier to bash PETA and individuals than do anything meaningful to help the chickens.
They also try to shirk responsibility on the one hand, while claiming to show it by their actions on the other. They can't have it both ways. No, they don't own the farms, but when they say that they hold their suppliers to certain standards, it is obvious that this is not true or we would not have seen such behavior at Pilgrim's, and you would not be reading about similar incidents that happened at Tyson on this site.
Also, if they were truly "appalled" by this sort of behavior, they would have required that Tyson make some of the same changes when I came forward that they say they are requiring of that Pilgrim's plant. They didn't do that. Indeed, Tyson didn't either. No one in the industry did or we wouldn't have seen this footage on this video. Nope, the entire industry, KFC included, preferred to lie to everyone and cover up the incidents, trying to assassinate my character instead of taking responsibility like they have been forced to do by this latest publicity.
While firing the 11 people involved is a good first step, as are seeking cruelty charges against those involved, that is just not enough. If they truly want to prevent such incidents in the future, they will have to make some big changes in how they do things. And, I just don't really see them doing that. They will instead issue meaningless press releases designed to lessen the guilt of their intended customers to keep them buying their products. That's all they really care about. If it wasn't, they would have addressed this situation long ago.
Until the day comes that doing the job right is more important than profit margins, nothing is really going to change.
And, because of that fact, I highly doubt that this is the last video we see from PETA...
Well, it's been really interesting over the past day or so now. The network news channels all picked up the KFC cruelty story, and I even saw it on Good Morning America this morning. A lot more people have been coming here after that new video showing the atrocious cruelty at Pilgrim's Pride that PETA got came out. When I first told about all of these kinds of things happening, a lot of people just plain didn't want to believe it. They especially didn't want to believe that supervisors knew about it and did nothing. Some went so far as to call me a liar. Tyson sure did.
Well, now everyone can plainly see that not only was I the one telling the truth, but also that Tyson was the one telling everyone lies, that this sort of "outrageous" abuse does in fact happen, and that supervisors do in fact know about it. Don't let them convince you that this is an isolated incident. Keep in mind that this stuff caught on the video happened at one of the "Supplier of the Year" plants. If this is the best, well you can imagine how bad it is at the worst...
This happens industry-wide and is not at all uncommon. One of the main reasons that they can get away with it is because chickens are not covered under the Humane Slaughter Act, as they should be. Therefore, there is not much done about this kind of behavior. Usually nothing is done at all. The only reason that people might get fired over this is because they got caught in such a public way. That's also the only reason for an investigation.
There certainly wasn't much of an investigation where my case was concerned, if you have been reading enough of this blog to remember that back when it happened. In fact, what happened was much closer to a cover-up than any investigation. But, what can you expect when the town is beholden to Tyson and many of the law enforcement officers have chicken houses?
Anyway, while you are here, I want to call another site to your attention. Remember recently when I posted the new pictures of me with the hen and told you they were for a new site? Well, that site is up and running now. One of my contacts that works for the HSUS was working with Farm Sanctuary to put together a new site featuring the stories of workers and showing alternatives to factory farming.
It's called Ask Farmer Brown, and my story is here. They also have the stories of Dave Louthan and Rick Joshko, another chicken worker like me that has gone vegetarian and will never kill another chicken. Just in case you were still harboring a few doubts about how common this is, you know. Can't have that happen. They can also tell you in their own words how much of a hellhole these plants are. It's a great new site. They did a good job on it. Check it out.
This happens everywhere. And if you still are eating meat, this is what you are supporting.
Well, PETA has done it again. Have you seen the story in the New York Times yet? Oh, it is a good one. This time they got an investigator into a Pilgrim's Pride chicken slaughter plant, ironically one of KFC's "Supplier of the Year" plants. He worked the hanging cage for 8 months, documenting the terrible cruelty that goes on. And, of course, he hit pay-dirt. What did he find? Well, let me give you an idea.
There were workers doing all sorts of things to the chickens, and the supervisors not caring. Things like:
jumping up and down on live chickens, drop-kicking them like footballs and slamming them into walls, apparently for fun.
"hundreds" of acts of cruelty, including workers tearing beaks off, ripping a bird's head off to write graffiti in blood, spitting tobacco juice into birds' mouths, plucking feathers to "make it snow," suffocating a chicken by tying a latex glove over its head, and squeezing birds like water balloons to spray feces over other birds.
On April 6, one day he filmed, workers made a game of throwing chickens against a wall; 114 were thrown in seven minutes. A supervisor walking past the pile of birds on the floor said, "Hold your fire," and, once out of the way, told the crew to "carry on."
On another day, he said, the supervisor told the crew to kill correctly because inspectors were visiting.
And, why did they do it?
Well, according to the investigator, it was "to alleviate boredom or vent frustrations," especially when so many birds were coming in that they would have to work late.
Makes my claims not seem so outrageous after all, huh? I told everyone that this sort of thing was widespread. Some people didn't want to believe that. Well, I guess this pretty much proves it. Workers do abuse chickens - terribly - and the supervisors not only know about it, but they do nothing to stop it. Sorry, but I just have to gloat a bit here.
I have a feeling there will be a lot of meetings on this now. Maybe we can at last start to improve the way chickens are treated. It's hard to defend against a video. They attacked me mercilessly, trying to destroy my credibility when I came forward with similar accusations, but they can't attack a video. They can't destroy its credibility, now can they?
And, don't let them convince you that this was an isolated incident. It's not. This sort of thing happens industry-wide, just like I said. These torturous cruelties happen every day and night, also just like I said. It seems that the more time that goes by, the more I am being proved right.
Check out the whole story. It's a good one, and one that will haunt the industry for a long time.
Remember a while back when COK did an investigation of an egg farm and showed all the cruelties involved? Well, yes, they have done more than one. The one that I am referring to happened in the fall of 2002. COK exposed Red Bird Egg Farm in Millington, Maryland. They documented all sorts of horrible things happening there and got great publicity for doing so.
Well, this time they went back to the same place because the farm had gotten themselves certified under the label "Animal Care Certified." They wanted to see for themselves what kinds of improvements had been made to gain such a certification. What do you think they found?
I figure they probably already knew that. We all know that. That's why they did this to shed light on this problem. Too many people are buying eggs with that logo on them in the thinking that the birds are being taken care of and treated humanely. Well, if you have paid much attention to this issue, you know that is not true. They set up a whole site on this issue and won a ruling from the BBB that I also talked about here.
COK has done quite a bit to bring awareness to this problem. This time they also got WJLA (D.C.'s ABC affiliate on channel 7) to work with them on this story. It will air this evening on the 5:00 p.m. news if you want to watch it for yourself. The station has a banner advertising it, calling it "the investigation the egg industry doesn't want you to see."
To their credit, COK also rescued 4 birds and had them treated by a veterinarian. These birds probably would not have lived, but now they will live out their lives in much better surroundings, free from the horror that was their life in the battery cages. Good for you, COK!
Slowly but surely we are shining the lights in the dark places the industry prefers to keep hidden. Secrets are coming out. They can't hide their horrific practices anymore. The world is waking up to all of the inherent cruelty that goes along with factory farming. Little by little we are reaching people. And those people are making changes in their lives.
Just yesterday I showed COK's latest video, "45 Days: The Life and Death of a Broiler Chicken," to someone yesterday. She found it to be an horrific eye-opening experience and plans to order some of the meat substitutes that we gave her the information for.
Thanks again, Paul, for introducing those to us! We eat them every week and have been spreading the word on them. If any of you have never tried them, you really should. They are the best we have found and are much cheaper than most of the ones you find at the grocery stores. The other advantage is that, since they are dehydrated, you can store them easily for a long time, if need be. Ours doesn't last that long, though! Anyway, it's called Not! Beef and Not! Chicken, if you want to try them. The woman that watched the video tasted some "beef" we had here that we had put a little barbecue sauce on and was so surprised that it tasted like meat and had the same texture. She was even more amazed that it was cheaper than real meat. I have a feeling she will probably not eat real chicken again. She said that video made her sick...
I can understand that feeling. As I am sure you can, too.
We just need to keep working to make sure others understand what goes on in this industry, too. People have been lied to and kept in the dark for far too long. We may have a long way to go, but we are making progress. I still hear from new people all the time that say that what they have learned has changed their lives. And when I think of how many animals won't be tortured and killed (thousands) to feed each one of those people, it makes all this work worth the time and trouble.
So keep spreading the word. And new readers, keep the emails coming. I love to hear from you. It makes my day.
Guess what? Remember the poor little dog that was dumped on us back in January that we have been trying to find a home for? His picture is on the photo page, along with the other two we are trying to find homes for. Anyway, he went to a new home yesterday!
I want to thank everyone that spread the word and tried to find this little guy a good home. With your help we spread the word far and wide. Ultimately, though, we found a home for him locally. He went to a couple that Laura's mother knows that have taken in rescues before. They don't live very far away, so we will be able to visit him if we want to. We were so excited when they said they would take him because it has gotten increasingly hard to keep him safe from the big Newfoundland that wanted to kill him. In fact we got him off of him just yesterday. He had learned to climb the fence, so I was working on it to try to make it more secure when the guy showed up.
We know that he will be much happier where he is going than being in that little pen, anyway. We were so glad to get him out of there.
Also, you may notice that I put up a couple of new pictures on the photo page. I took them for a website that it soon to be up and running that features me. They wanted a picture of me with a chicken, so I got a few of those this week.
The chicken featured is one of five that we were given the responsibility of raising, since the hen was trying to peck them to death when they were cute little fuzzy babies. So, since it was still cold, we fixed them up a nice hay-lined box and brought them inside with us to start them off until they were old enough and the nights warm enough to put them outside. Of course, they have been out there for a while now. They are just about grown now, as you can tell.
I can't tell you how much we enjoyed taking care of these babies. We just spoiled them rotten, always finding them tasty goodies to add to their regular food. We went out and got them fresh grass when it started going to seed. They love to eat the seeds. But, their favorite seeds were from the chickweed growing in the yard! Funny, huh? We thought so, then wondered if that's how it got its name. Anyone know? Whether or not it is so, it is still funny that out of all things they prefer chickweed. They eat the whole plant, but prefer the seeds.
It was so much nicer to love and care for chickens rather than killing them. I had never raised baby chickens myself before. Mother hens always did that. I don't know why the hen they were with was being so mean to them, but she was, so we raised them ourselves. As a result they are very tame and love to be stroked and given lots of attention.
They also love to eat ticks, which is great! Anything that eats ticks is my friend! We would pick them off of ourselves and put them on our finger to take over to them. As soon as they could see it crawling on our finger, they would very carefully - but also very quickly! - pluck it right off our fingers, barely touching us.
They have been a lot of fun to raise. They are smart, curious, and have wonderful personalities. We really enjoyed doing this. I can't tell you how rewarding it was for me, especially.
We have been doing a lot of animal care lately. A lot better thing to do with animals than killing them. It's been absolutely wonderful.
One day when the babies were little and fuzzy Laura was standing there looking at them, watching them eat and talk to each other. She got a really troubled look on her face and asked me how the people that worked at hatcheries could do what they did. How could they look at those cute little fuzzy baby faces and kill the males and slice the beaks off the others? I tried to explain to her that you have to look at them as "product," as "logs being made into lumber," or something like that to do it. You just couldn't think of them as babies.
She frowned, looked at the babies again for a while, then turned back to me and said that she just couldn't understand it. That she could never kill babies for a living and that she just could not wrap her mind around the idea that anyone could. This is a big thing for her to say because usually she is pretty good at putting herself in the shoes of another to try to understand how and why they do the things they do and feel the way they do.
Killing cute, fuzzy baby chicks was not something she could wrap her mind around and understand.
That's a big part of why I love her so much. That and the fact that she has helped me to start caring like that again, too. I hope that one day everyone in the world looks at it the way she does and can't conceive of killing babies.
Well, this morning I finally got caught up on all the emails that have been piling up. It seemed to take forever, and I apologize to those of you who wrote me that it took me (in some cases) several days to get back to you. I used to try to answer each email as soon as I found it, usually within 24 hours. But, as you know, I have been behind in just about everything I have been doing lately. I cited a couple of the reasons, but one of them has also been the weather. We have had a lot of thunderstorms lately, sometimes every day for a while. That shuts me down completely, of course.
But, it's finally back to business as usual. I have winnowed down some of the subscriptions of newsletters, though I still have to get a few more done. That in itself takes time, especially since I work with a very slow dial-up connection. But, that's just part of living in such a rural area. We have only one local number for the entire area. That's the biggest part of the reason I do all my online activity early in the morning. As people sign on, the connection continually gets reset, getting slower and slower. Sometimes you can't even sign on in the evenings at all. You just get a busy signal. Early morning offers the fastest connection speed, so that's when I do all my online work.
I have been giving the book project more thought lately. I have been hoping to start that now that I have talked to several people in the activist community and read different books to see what has and hasn't been done. Now, I am coming to you to ask your opinion on how this book should be written. I would love to get some feedback from as many of you as possible.
On the one hand, there are those that are saying that I have most of my writing done - just to organize and flesh out what is already on the blog here.
On the other, there are those that are telling me that it would be better to write this in such a way as that it is my story, but in a fictionalized way. The obvious recommendations for doing this is that there can be no one trying to sue me or come after me in any other manner, screaming, "But that's not true! You can't say that!" It would also be preferable in that the events that happened could be told without strict remembrances on exactly when an incident occurred and would also open up the door to stories that I haven't told because I didn't have enough evidence to back them up.
See, I have been very careful to only report things I saw firsthand, with very few exceptions. However, there are many other things that have happened that I haven't told, simply because I couldn't prove them - things that others told me that they witnessed. I knew when I started with my sworn statement that I might have to defend it in a future court date, so I was very careful in what it alleged. I made sure I could back up the allegations there. Same with the stuff I have written here. But, these things are by no means the whole story...
I am just one guy. I may have seen a lot, since I worked in different sectors for so many years, but I am still only one guy who worked for one company. There are many others that I talked with over the years that also had stories to tell. These, for the most part, I have never gone into. If the book is told from a fictionalized viewpoint, I would feel more comfortable including them. I had thought about telling my personal story of the things that I went through, coupled with the story of just one little chicken. I wanted to bring those two characters together later in the book. I have some that agree with that and think it's a great idea.
I have pretty much decided to do it this way for those reasons. It would still be my story of real events, but I would be allowed a little more leeway in telling it. But, I want to hear what you think about this. What would you be more likely to buy and read? I can do it either way. I could (if there is enough interest in the first one) write more than one. Some of you have been reading this blog from the beginning. We have exchanged many emails about many things. We have gotten to know each other. We value each others' opinions. That's why I am coming to you. I want to know what you think.
Yeah, I know. I haven't posted in a bit. Sorry about that. I have been really busy lately and have had the computer in and out of the shop. Gotta keep this thing going, even if it was quite a bit more expensive that what I could really afford. Who needs to eat that much anyway? LOL!Also been doing a bit more around the house lately since Laura broke one of her toes and taking care of extra animals for some friends that are out of town. Meanwhile the stream of emails continues to come in and build up. It's been a bit of a struggle to keep all the different email accounts I have set up to keep everything running smoothly from overloading and bouncing messages everywhere.
Speaking of which, I have had a couple of email addresses spoofed. Someone is apparently using them to spread viruses. I don't send out attachments without good reason, and certainly without telling someone ahead of time to expect it and describing what it is and that it is safe. Sooooo, if you get an email like that, I probably didn't send it. Don't open it. At the very least, contact me first to find out if it was me. I would hate for any of you to be infected by something you thought came from me. I certainly don't send out viruses.
Also, I have found myself becoming a bit overwhelmed by all the different emails flooding my inbox from all kinds of causes wanting me to write a letter for this, sign a petition for that. And, of course, I try to do as many of those as possible. However, I have begun to notice that I am neglecting too much of the work I consider the biggest priority right now. Of course, that is my fight against the abuses of factory farming. That is my priority and my niche. It is where the vast majority of abuse happens just because of the numbers involved. It also happens to be the thing I know the most about. It's where I am best suited to help.
The point of all this is that I have been doing some thinking here lately about this dilemma. It seems callous and cold to say, "Well, I just don't have the time to sign that," and hit the delete button. So I didn't. I saved it for when I had more time. You know, that magical day when you have all this extra time to get caught up on everything. That one that never seems to come. Before you know it, you are swamped and feeling overwhelmed by the gargantuan task of going through all those tasks and write off the whole bunch. Nothing gets done. And you feel bad.
Any of you ever gotten into this situation? I mean, which issue do you say is less important than the others? The poisons in the air, the land, the water? The decreasing forests? The starving kids? Human rights abuses? The abused animals in zoos, circuses, etc.? What do you let slide? The sheer size and number of the problems facing those of us in the world who are paying attention are piling up. I'm sure most of you know exactly what I am talking about.
You get the emails too, no doubt. You hear about the things large corporations get away with. You here about the things this administration is getting away with. GMOs. Water privatization. The Patriot Act. NAFTA, WTO, etc. You just want to scream really loud to the rest of the country, "America - WAKE UP!!!!!!!! Take back your country!!!!!!!"
But, the fact of the matter is that each one of us can only do so much. We each need to find our niche and concentrate (at least most of) our energy on that. That's not to say we should ignore everything else, but somewhere we have to draw the line and do the things we are the best at and here we can make the biggest difference.
For me, that difference is in factory farming. It's what I know. That's the main thing that people come to this blog to read about. They come here to read about the bad side of the factory farming industry, especially that of the poultry industry, by far the worst of the worst.
Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that I will need to unsubscribe from some of the different newsletters I am signed up with and not work on those issues so much. I'll keep most of the environmental ones, though. I was doing that even before I came forward with all this. And our environment is in dire need of saving. And, in doing so, I am also helping animals. So, I'll keep those, but I am going to have to drop some of the other things. I have just gotten too involved with too many different issues - all important, but a real drain on my time to be working at where I can make the biggest difference.
I think you know what I mean. So, hopefully I can get a little more time to post here again. Though, I do have to admit that I am having a harder and harder time figuring out exactly what to talk about here. I seem to be spending more time at the group nowadays posting articles. That's the place to check for the latest issues involving factory farming. I keep it very up-to-date. But, the story here is far from over, either. Don't think that for one minute. I didn't mean it to sound that way. I have just been in a bit of a lull lately waiting on the next round of events to take place.
Like the forum in August at UPC. I hope that some of you will be coming to it. If you haven't heard about it yet, check it out. I, along with several other interesting people, will be speaking there. I am looking forward to seeing Paul Shapiro again and meeting Karen face to face after talking to her for so long now. It looks to be a lot of fun, and I hope to meet as many activists there as possible.
I'll wrap this up for now. I really just wanted to check in with you. A lot of you have been reading since the very beginning, and I feel a certain responsibility to post here frequently. I am still plugging along, getting ready for the forum and fleshing out some ideas I have about how to write the book. I plan on writing more about that soon, as I would like to get some feedback from you on some of those ideas.
Have a good 4th this weekend. Stay safe, and give a little extra comfort to the animals frightened by fireworks. A big hug will go a long way to make them feel more secure.