Written by PETA
Late last year, some factory-farm employees got their pink slips from Aviagen Turkeys, Inc. in response to PETA's undercover investigation, which documented that workers were breaking turkeys' necks, stomping on their heads, and shoving feces and feed into turkeys' mouths.
Then, in February, a grand jury handed down 19 indictments, including 11 felony charges, against three former Aviagen workers, marking the first time in U.S. history that factory-farm employees have faced felony cruelty-to-animals charges for abusing birds.
Fast forward: Two of the three ex-employees, Scott Alvin White and Edward Eric Gwinn, recently pleaded guilty to cruelty charges. On June 8, White was sentenced to serve one year in jail—the maximum period permitted by law! Today, Gwinn was sentenced to serve six months' home confinement—the maximum period permitted by law—on each count, concurrently, and is banned from living with, owning, and working with animals for five years. The case against the third ex-employee, Walter Lee Hambrick, is pending.
Can't get enough? In September, a grand jury in neighboring Monroe County, West Virginia, may well issue further felony indictments against White and Hambrick.
These historic victories by no means even the score for the turkeys who were punched and thrown or the many other birds who suffered when they were forced to watch as other turkeys were abused at Aviagen. After watching our undercover video, animal behavior expert Dr. Lesley J. Rogers stated, "It is now known that when social animals, like turkeys, see and hear other members of their species under stress or suffering physical injury, their levels of stress become elevated. Hence, the behavioural stress is widespread in the birds in the vicinity of those that have been injured and/or handled roughly."
Still, these convictions will remind workers on other factory farms that if they don't clean up their acts, PETA investigators (and the whistleblowers who tip us off) will have their eyes on them.
Written by Karin Bennett
Shawn Matthew Lyons was the first individual ever convicted of abusing or neglecting factory-farmed pigs in Iowa, but he's no longer alone. Four other workers who were employed at the farm—a Hormel supplier at which our undercover investigation produced video footage documenting that workers beat pigs with metal rods and sexually abused them with canes—have now admitted to abusing pigs.
Of the defendants—Richard Michael Ralston, Alan Bruce Rettig, Greg William Hackler, and Jordan Michael Anderson—Ralston, Rettig, and Hackler have pleaded guilty, been convicted, and sentenced to two years in prison, which has been suspended. Anderson accepted a deferred entry of judgment allowing him to have the charges dismissed if he completes a period of good behavior. All four have all been ordered to pay fines and other fees, and they have been placed on probation for periods ranging from one to two years.
Most importantly, three of the men have been barred from working with animals for the duration of their probation. Only Anderson will be allowed to do so. Despite an assurance in October from Audubon-Manning Veterinary Clinic President Daryl Olsen, D.V.M., that Anderson “has been suspended from working with livestock pending the outcome of the charges,” a whistleblower told us that Anderson is currently employed at a hog-confinement facility that Dr. Olsen reportedly owns. Dr. Olsen has not answered our inquiry regarding Mr. Anderson. If you would like to ask him to confirm that his company does not pay admitted animal abusers like Anderson to work with live animals, please contact him here.
Pork magazine called our investigation footage a "wake-up call" for the pork industry. We hope that these convictions serve not only as another wake-up call but also as a lesson to anyone working in this innately cruel industry: Neither the courts nor the public have a stomach for such malicious cruelty to farmed animals.
Written by Shawna Flavell
Our recent undercover investigation, which revealed exactly what happens to horses abandoned by the coldhearted racing industry, has been picked up by a variety of news outlets, but we were particularly glad to see this piece featured on ESPN's Outside the Lines:
Maybe now more sports fans will recognize that horse racing is anything but sporting—especially for the thousands of horses who meet tragic ends every year—and perhaps they'll join us in calling for an end to these abuses.
Written by Jeff Mackey
In a huge victory for animals, a grand jury has issued 19 indictments for cruelty to animals against three former employees of Aviagen Turkeys, Inc. And it gets better—11 of the indictments are on felony charges. This marks the first time in U.S. history that factory-farm employees have faced felony cruelty-to-animals charges for abusing birds.
These indictments are the result of PETA's undercover investigation at Aviagen's factory farms in West Virginia, which uncovered workers stomping, kicking, throwing, and killing turkeys in unimaginably cruel ways. Our investigator's video footage was seen by the West Virginia State Police, whose investigator then conducted his own prompt and thorough investigation, leading to these indictments in Greenbrier County. Next stop: Monroe County, where we anticipate additional charges to be filed for similar acts committed there.
It's great to see the authorities take this case seriously. But Aviagen itself? Not so much.
As you may recall, a couple of weeks back, a whistleblower told us that some of the turkey torturers were still employed by Aviagen, despite the company's promise to fire all the workers caught violating its purported animal-welfare policies. PETA's letter to the company president about this has gone unanswered. And Aviagen has refused to give any specific details about the actions it claims to have taken. So, as far as we can tell, Aviagen hasn't yet implemented even one of the seven improvements we suggested to them. If you're as riled about this as we are, please take a minute to ask Aviagen executives to stop sitting on their thumbs and take some specific steps toward preventing the continued torture of birds in the company's sheds.
Bet these indictments have got them sitting up and paying attention, though. And not just at Aviagen (I'm looking at you, Butterball, Pilgrim's Pride, and Tyson). And I suspect the charges might make those drumsticks a little harder for some folks to swallow too.
We have just learned that Shawn Matthew Lyons, one of the men caught abusing pigs during our investigation of an Iowa pig farm, pleaded guilty to one count of livestock neglect. This charge was filed after authorities reviewed our investigators' video, which showed Lyons beating a pig on the back at least 10 times with a metal gate rod.
According to court records posted today, Lyons has been ordered to pay a fine of $625—the maximum permitted by law—and an additional $250 in court costs and surcharges. Lyons has been placed on probation for six months, during which time he is prohibited from working with any animals. All convicted animal abusers should be barred from contact with animals, and we commend prosecutor Nic Martino for securing this vital sentencing condition.
To our knowledge, Lyons is the first individual ever convicted of abusing or neglecting a factory-farmed pig in Iowa, the nation's top pork-producing state. His conviction sends yet another wake-up call to the pork industry: Cruelty to pigs will not be tolerated by the public or the criminal justice system. And you never know where our undercover investigators will turn up next …
Written by Christine Doré
You probably remember when we unveiled our undercover investigation of Aviagen Turkeys, Inc., right before Thanksgiving. (Those horrifying images are hard to forget.) After seeing our video footage, Aviagen claimed to be working on improvements to its animal welfare policies and promised to fire all workers who were caught violating them.
However, Aviagen has not, to PETA's knowledge, implemented any of PETA's seven recommendations for making its turkeys less miserable. On top of that, we got a call 10 days ago from a whistleblower who let us know that at least three of the workers who were videotaped stomping, kicking, throwing, and maliciously killing turkeys are still being paid to handle live turkeys on Aviagen's farms. I'd really like to say that I'm shocked, but after seeing what happens on Aviagen's dark and dusty factory farms, I don't think there's anything the company could do that would surprise me.
We've pumped a letter out to Aviagen president Jihad Douglas demanding to know why these workers are still on the company's payroll two months after PETA representatives personally provided company officials with our videotape as well as what, if any, steps the company has taken to stop cruelty to animals on its farms. Aviagen, since you seem to have no brilliant plans of your own to stop the abuse of turkeys on your factory farms, I suggest that you implement our seven-point-plan for animal welfare improvements as soon as possible.
Oh, and one more thing: Fire those workers … now!
Written by Liz Graffeo
We all know about the horrific treatment of animals killed for human consumption, but a lot of us dog guardians haven't stopped to think about what we're feeding Fido for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Recently, a University of Florida student investigated Moses Dog Food company (based in Ocala, Florida) to find out what's in your dog's bowl. Check out the video below to see what the student discovered:
The majority of dog and cat food comes from factory farm–raised animals who failed to meet standards for human consumption, falling into one of the "Four D's" categories—dead, dying, diseased, or disabled. Does that sound like something you'd want to feed your dog?
Luckily, there are plenty of humane non-animal alternatives available, such as the legendary V-Dog vegan dog food available on our Web site. We've also got vegan pig ears and treats for you to stock up on—so get shopping!
For the rest of the investigator's photos and contact information for the company so that you can voice your concerns, please visit "The Meat They Eat."
Last week—just in time to give the turkeys who are still suffering at Aviagen something small to be thankful for—Aviagen Turkeys, Inc., announced that it had terminated all the employees who were found to have violated Aviagen's animal welfare standards. (I hope the guys who stomped on turkeys' heads were the first to go.)
This is a great, although small, step for the turkeys who are still tightly trapped in Aviagen's dark, dusty sheds—at the very least, they won't have to suffer at those individuals' hands or under their watch any longer. So far, however, Aviagen seems to have passed on the opportunity to press for a criminal investigation and prosecution of the dismissed workers. If the executives at Aviagen were really serious about cracking down on cruelty to animals, wouldn't they join us in asking officials to prosecute these individuals?
Also, Aviagen has announced that it has "outlined a series of actions" that will improve its "existing welfare guidelines" and "ensure [that] violations do not occur in [the] future." That sounds nice—but based on what the company's "existing welfare guidelines" failed to prevent, I think I'd feel a little more comfortable with some specifics, don't you? Gosh, it sure would be nice if somebody were to provide Aviagen with a list of specific steps to take to improve animal welfare—oh wait … we did.
Please help by writing a polite letter to Aviagen asking the company to implement PETA's Seven-Point Animal Welfare Plan and to call on officials to prosecute any employees—past, present or future—who abuse or neglect animals. Aviagen has made some small progress already—let's hope it continues its much-needed reforms.
Written by Amanda Schinke
We have a brand-new investigation of a turkey factory farm, and we wanted to let the investigator introduce it to you himself. See what he has to say, then please check out the video.
The alarm clock on my cell blares out at 1 a.m. I twist in pain. It can't be time to get up yet. I hit the snooze button twice. Finally I roll over and rub my face with my hands, feeling the calloused-over blisters scratching my cheeks. The insides of my eyes and nose hurt from the dust that I could not wash out from the hours I worked yesterday in the barns where turkeys spend their entire lives.
They are crammed into pens, sometimes 600 or 800 to a pen. There are almost 8,000 turkeys in one barn. Each of these turkey farms has two or three barns. The dust inside the barns is sickening. I can’t even go in without a respirator mask. I cough and choke from not being able to breathe. I see the turkeys panting much of the time. I think about grabbing one of them and carrying her outside and putting her in the grass where she could breathe and walk freely. It is so sad that they are reduced to this miserable existence just to make some profit.
There are times when I have to hold back the tears. To see the workers torture these animals is infuriating. Today we are loading a truck with male turkeys who have been bred to weigh 80-plus pounds—the same weight as my 10-year-old cousin. I will spend the next four hours watching men slam them into cages on the back of a semi truck in temperatures near 20°F. I have seen these guys stomp turkeys’ heads on the concrete. The sound of cracking beaks and breaking bones makes me cringe, but I can show no emotion. I am forced to watch in silent pain as these innocent lives are being destroyed.
Turkey factory farms endorse suffering. They sell death. They make money on abuse. They do not want to show people what happens here. Everyone should know what happens here. I have spent two and a half months in hell so that people will know what it means to have a turkey on the table. Watch the video, and show people the truth. Make this world a better place by reducing pain and suffering. And please do not eat turkey this Thanksgiving.
Here's a rare glimpse into what it's like for an undercover investigator. We would like to give a heartfelt thank you to the two brave individuals who went undercover at this pig factory farm in Iowa (and to undercover investigators everywhere). The investigators hope their experiences will motivate you to make a difference for animals each day in your own way. Here's what they had to say:
What exactly was your reaction when you saw just how badly the animals were really being treated? Did you cry?
Investigator 1: I was horrified and terribly saddened. But I had a good idea of what I was going to see, and I prepared myself for it. … Because it is so critical to conceal my identity and my sympathy for animals while undercover, I [can only] cry on the inside when I see the abuse and the cruelty. I can never let my coworkers see that side of me. Sometimes, I will let out a good cry at home or in my car after a particularly disturbing day.
Investigator 2: There were some nights I would get home and get emotional about the day's events. You have to hold it inside until you get home. If the other employees see you react in an emotional way, it would blow your cover. The people whom I have met working at a hog farm would never get emotional or upset due to the mistreatment of the animals, and so we must act in that same manner.
What toll does it take on you mentally and emotionally? How do you handle working in facilities that abuse animals?
Investigator 1: The job is challenging, both mentally and emotionally. It always helps me tremendously to look at the big picture and focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. Personal sacrifice is almost always necessary to achieve great change. But I take solace in those … moments that I spend, one-on-one, with the animals whom I meet on an assignment. Looking into the sad eyes of a suffering animal motivates me and energizes me to do more. And I realize that my mental and emotional anguish pales in comparison to the suffering and pain this animal is feeling right now. I get to go home after work every day, but the animals never leave.
Investigator 2: It can take a large toll on you. Seeing what happens firsthand day in and day out definitely affects you. There are times during a case when I have had nightmares about it. The only way to really get through it is to always keep in mind that this would all be happening if I was there or not. By being there, I have the opportunity to help stop abuse.
To read all of the questions and answers from the investigators, click here.
Do you think you'd be able to handle being an undercover investigator?
you have a general question for PETA and would like a response, please e-mail Info@peta.org. If you need to report cruelty to
an animal, please click
here. If you are reporting an animal in imminent danger and know where to find the
animal and if the abuse is taking place right now, please call your local
police department. If the police are unresponsive, please call PETA
immediately at 757-622-7382 and press 2.
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Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights? Read more.