Under the Dome

Undercover video plays into ‘ag-gag’ debate; farm could fire workers


As North Carolina state legislators appear likely to approve a bill that they stress is not about “ag-gag” – the term for muzzling undercover investigations of farm animal abuse – an advocacy group has released a video purporting to show chickens being mistreated at a processing plant in Robeson County.

Compassion Over Killing, which has offices in Washington and Los Angeles, says it placed an investigator inside the Mountaire Farms facility in Lumber Bridge in March and April. That person videoed birds violently thrown, workers punching birds hanging upside down, a worker ripping out a bird’s feathers and throwing them at another worker, birds slammed into leg shackles and sick or injured birds thrown into piles of dead or dying chickens, according to the group.

The organization says it has reported its findings to Robeson County law enforcement.

A representative of Mountaire could not be reached for comment.

Compassion Over Killing says the video is an example of the kind of abuse that would not be made public if the legislature passes House Bill 405. The bill’s supporters say it isn’t about farm animal abuse.

It is more broadly about preventing anyone from taking a job with the intention of stealing or committing other crimes, or in civil law terms, breaching their duty of loyalty to their employer. But that would include people who get jobs on farms to expose maltreatment of animals.

The House overwhelmingly passed the bill last week, and it is now with the Senate.

Mountaire Farms has chicken facilities in North Carolina, Maryland and Delaware.

“North Carolina’s chicken industry is desperate to cover up its rampant animal abuse, which is why it’s so feverishly working to enact this law,” COK executive director Erica Meier said in a statement.

Update: Mountaire Farms vice president for human resources and business services, Michael Tirrell, issued a statement Thursday any employee found to have inhumanely treated chickens will be fired immediately.

“We are in the process of determining the authencitiy of the video; however, we find the actions depicted to be totally unacceptable,” Tirrell said. “We have zero tolerance for animal abuse by our employees under any circumstances and have initated a thorough investigation.”

Tirrell added that the company is committed to following nationally accepted animal welfare guidelines, and has continuous training, monitoring and reporting in place, as well as independent audits.

On Friday, the executive director for Compassion Over Killing, Erica Meier, said in a statement:

“It’s encouraging that Mountaire acknowledges that the “actions depicted to be totally unacceptable,” though they could have addresses this sooner — our investigator reported these violent acts to his supervisors, yet the abuse continued. This highlights the dangers of the pending ag-gag bill. Without our investigator’s documentation, these abuses would no doubt be continuing without reprimand.”