Virgil Butler, the former slaughterhouse worker from Arkansas who dedicated his life to educating others about the horrors of factory farming, died last night in his sleep at the age of 41. Virgil spent 9 years working in Tyson slaughterhouses, killing as many as 80,000 birds a shift in extremely dangerous working conditions and for very little pay. But in 2002, Virgil contacted PETA to say that he had had enough of the human and animal suffering that he witnessed every day, and asked what he could do to help. Discussing his and his wife’s feelings at the time, he said,
What I have seen was horrible enough that we had quit eating chicken. When we researched a bit we found out that the poultry business is no worse than any other part of factory farming. Now we don’t eat any meat at all. We also spend a part of each day in the fight against factory farming.
For the next four years, Virgil played David to the poultry industry’s Goliath with courage, resourcefulness, and a limitless supply of patience and good humor. He gave news conferences about his experiences, spoke forcefully about animal and human rights issues on his blog, The Cyberactivist, and inspired thousands of people to make changes in their lives based on his own compassionate example. His legacy is one of kindness, hope, and perseverance, and his loss is very deeply felt.