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Pilgrims pride probes poultry cruelty charges

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Pilgrim's Pride Probes Poultry Cruelty Charges
Tue Jul 20, 2004 06:05 PM ET

By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A video from an animal rights group allegedly showing cruelty at a U.S. poultry plant owned by Pilgrim's Pride Corp. prompted the company on Tuesday to launch an investigation of its workers and sent its shares lower.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said the tape showed workers at a West Virginia Pilgrim's Pride plant ripping off birds' beaks, spitting tobacco into their mouths and eyes, stomping and kicking live chickens, and squeezing them with such force "that the birds expelled feces."

The tape is the latest in an 18-month-long series of investigations by PETA of companies that supply KFC, the fast-food chicken chain owned and operated by Yum Brands Inc. .

PETA spokesman Dan Shannon said the abuses found at the Pilgrim's Pride facility went far beyond the "routine, standard cruelty" the animal rights group found in past investigations.

Shannon said PETA workers routinely observed crippled chickens and chickens living without adequate food and water on farms in England, Germany, Australia and India that supplied meat to KFC. But he contrasted that to "the really sadistic abuse" found in the plant in Moorefield, West Virginia.

Pilgrim's Pride, the No. 2 U.S. poultry producer after Tyson Foods, is a KFC supplier.

Shares in Pilgrim's Pride fell 91 cents, or 3 percent, to close at $29.85 after earlier dipping as low as $29.00 in New York Stock Exchange trading.

Pilgrim's Pride President O.B. Goolsby said in a statement that the company was appalled and outraged by the allegations. The alleged actions, he said, were in direct contradiction of the company's animal welfare policies.

Goolsby also said an investigation into the PETA allegations had begun. One worker was suspended without pay and three others were being investigated, he said.

Goolsby called the problem an isolated incident, but added that animal welfare policies will be reviewed at all plants that handle live animals.

KFC, also describing the videotape as appalling, said it notified Pilgrim's Pride that it will stop buying from the West Virginia plant "unless they can definitively assure us there are absolutely no abuses taking place."

Shannon said PETA's undercover investigator documented the animal abuses over an eight-month period ending in May. He said hundreds of hours of video footage illustrated the cruelty.

Excerpts were posted on a PETA Web site,, and were being offered to U.S. television networks, Shannon said.

PETA asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in a letter on Tuesday, to investigate the facility, Shannon said.

Steven Cohen, a spokesman for the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, said it was looking into the allegations.

PETA also said it had presented the video to local prosecutors, calling for felony charges against those responsible for the alleged animal cruelty.

Asked whether Pilgrim's Pride had adopted voluntary animal welfare guidelines created by the National Chicken Council, a Washington-based association representing the U.S. industry, council spokesman Richard Lobb said, "Of course they have."

Lobb downplayed the impact the video will have on consumers. "This is going to be an isolated case of bad behavior and I think consumers understand that," he said.

PETA argues the problem with KFC chicken suppliers is chronic.

"What KFC has been saying for years is that they have an animal welfare program in place. We think that this investigation proves that they don't," Shannon said.

(Additional reporting by Bob Burgdorfer and Deborah Cohen in Chicago)

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