Video of animal cruelty at Tyson chicken factory prompts firings

© Issei Kato IK
A graphic video secretly recorded by an animal rights activist inside a Tyson Foods plant has led to two firings after it showed workers punching chickens and ripping their heads off. The footage could instigate legal proceedings against the fast food chicken supplier.

In September, a Mercy for Animals activist went undercover to accept a job with Tyson Foods at its plant in Carthage, Mississippi, then filmed coworkers abusing chickens in a variety of violent acts, including bashing chickens with their fists or by throwing them against equipment. Among other abuses, the domesticated birds, called broiler chickens, had their heads manually ripped off while they were still alive and conscious.

"We do not believe the behavior shown in this video by the two team members we have now terminated is representative of the actions of the thousands of workers we employ across the country," Tyson wrote in a public statement.

"Ongoing and systemic" is how affidavits filed by Mercy for Animals described the maltreatment at the slaughterhouse, which processes 2.5 million chickens a week.

On Tuesday, the animal rights group’s lawyer Vandhana Bala submitted the affidavits to the Leake County, Mississippi Justice Court, accusing Arkansas-based Tyson of 33 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty, singling out six workers from the plant. A judge will decide whether there is probable cause for further action.

The activist-turned-undercover-worker, who remains unnamed out of fear of retribution, described in the affidavit, "birds who were positioned at the 'stun bath'-an electrified vat of water intended to render birds immobile-were left in the stun bath with their heads submerged in one and a half feet of water for several minutes or longer, unable to move. Those birds drowned to death as a result. Their deaths were not by slaughter, but because of the malfunction of the line. I did not observe those birds being removed or separated from the birds who were intended to enter the food supply."

Warning: The following video contains graphic footage

The Los Angeles-based Mercy further alleges the broiler chickens were piled up, suffocating or squashing some to death. The group’s investigator inside the plant complained about the abuses to Tyson both on a telephone hotline designated for such reports and to two supervisors on the premises three times, according to Matt Rice, director of investigations for the group.

"In one instance, a supervisor told him the broken shackles were a maintenance problem, that maintenance knows about the problem, and that maintenance doesn't ever fix things," Rice told USA Today.

In the "live hang area," the chickens are supposed to receive a mild shock to knock them out before their throats are slit, causing them to bleed out. However, when the shackles are broken, the birds won’t be sufficiently subdued and the impending throat-slitting becomes all the more gruesome.

Mercy is urging Tyson to leave the electrocution method behind and to opt for "controlled atmosphere killing," which gases the animals with nitrogen or argon. “Low atmospheric pressure stunning,” where oxygen is depleted until the birds pass out is another alternative favored by the group.

"While (controlled atmosphere stunning) and other methods may be worthy of further study, we have not found them to be more humane than conventional electrical stunning," Tyson spokesman Worth Sparkman told USA Today.

Previously, Mercy captured video on an independent chicken farm in Tennessee that slaughtered chickens for Tyson to turn into Chicken McNuggets for McDonald’s. The video revealed workers clubbing birds to death, leading to Weakley County, Tennessee authorities charging the farm with crimes related to animal cruelty.

In August, both McDonald’s and Tyson broke off relations with the farm.

In 2014, another secret Mercy video prompted Tyson to initiate new guidelines for thousands of hog producers it contracts with. An Oklahoma contractor plant had been recorded, showing workers using bowling balls against animals and slamming the creatures on concrete.