Brian Douglas, a worker caught abusing turkeys at a Butterball factory farm in North Carolina pled guilty Tuesday to felonious cruelty to animals. He is expected to serve 30 days in jail, followed by 42 months of probation.
The film shot by animal rights group mercy for Animals last December shows Douglas and five other workers kicking and stomping on turkeys, as well as dragging them by their wings and necks. Cases for the other workers are still pending.
As a result of the video, Hoke County detectives raided the farm on Dec. 28. During the raid, officials inspected 2,800 turkeys, seizing 28, four of which were euthanized.
Meanwhile, Dr. Sarah Mason, Director of Animal Health Programs at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, was suspended from her job and sentenced to 45 days in the Hoke County jail after pleading guilty to obstructing justice and obstructing a public officer. Mason admitted calling a friend who worked at Butterball prior to the December raid. Her sentence was suspended and she will be on unsupervised probation, but she will be required to take two ethics courses.
Though she initially told authorities she had not talked to the Butterball employee, Dr. Mason later admitted telling him about the existence of the Mercy for Animals video showing alleged abuse, and telling him that the video had been given to a county prosecutor.
In a statement issued through her attorney, Dr. Mason said her rationale for contacting the Butterball veterinarian (a longtime personal friend) was to “immediately curtail” any animal abuse taking place. In addition, Mason stated, “I deeply regret the actions I have taken have reflected poorly on the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.” She stated she recognized the “seriousness of the situation.”
Mercy for Animals said there had been no insider information about abuse at the facility before the undercover tape was made. “Unfortunately, every time we send an investigator they emerge with shocking evidence of animal abuse,” said MFA executive director Nathan Runkle.
“Butterball allowed a culture of cruelty and abuse to fester at its company-owned factory farms,” alleged Runkle. “Before ending up in restaurants and grocery stores, turkeys killed for Butterball are routinely crowded into filthy warehouses, neglected to die from infected, bloody wounds, and thrown, kicked, and beaten by factory farm workers.”
Rod Brenneman, president and CEO of Butterball, which accounts for 20% of total turkey production in the United states said he was “shocked” by the undercover video, is taking the animal cruelty investigation seriously, and has a “zero tolerance policy for any mistreatment of our birds.”
“We are taking steps to help ensure that all new and existing associates have a clear understanding of our animal well-being policies,” he added.”In addition to requiring all associates to sign an animal well-being agreement to report abuse immediately, we are performing an intense review across all company operations.”