Dec. 29, 2011 -- Acting on allegations of "repeated violations" of animal cruelty, officials in North Carolina raided a Butterball turkey facility this morning.
The raid was spurred by a confidential complaint filed with the Hoke County District Attorney earlier this month and obtained by ABC News, in which the animal rights group Mercy for Animals details conditions captured on hidden camera video by an activist who worked undercover at the Butterball facility for three weeks, ending in mid-December. The group says the activist witnessed "an ongoing pattern of cruelty to the turkeys" which included Butterball employees intentionally committing "acts of violence and severe neglect."
Butterball is the largest turkey producer in the U.S. and accounts for 20 percent of total turkey production in the country, according to its website.
Mercy for Animals, known for its undercover investigations of factory farms that utilize animals, cited North Carolina law in its complaint, in which "malicious" animal abuse can be found a felony.
In the hidden camera video, workers can be seen kicking and stomping on turkeys, as well as dragging them by their wings and necks. The video also shows injured birds with open wounds and exposed flesh.
During the raid, more than 2,000 birds will be inspected by investigators with the Hoke County Sheriff's Department as well as independent experts to look for injuries or signs of neglect, according to police. The search warrant executed today includes a court order allowing independent veterinarians to euthanize any birds that are determined to be suffering needlessly.
After the raid began, Butterball released a statement, saying it has a "zero tolerance policy for any mistreatment of our birds" and said the company was conducting its own investigation into the allegations.
"At Butterball, LLC, our number one priority is to provide for the health and well being of our birds in order to produce safe and nutritious product for consumers," the statement says. "Butterball takes these allegations very seriously and fully supports the efforts being made on the part of officials… Employees found in violation of Butterball's animal welfare policies will be subject to immediate termination."
However Nathan Runkle, Executive Director for Mercy for Animals, said the company should be held responsible for the alleged "cruelty" caught on camera.
"Butterball is guilty of extreme animal abuse and should be held criminally accountable… As a civilized society it's our moral obligation to prevent cruelty to animals, including to those raised for food," Runkle told ABC News. "Consumers have a right to know the cruel reality behind Butterball turkey."
"Butterball's secret ingredient is egregious animal cruelty and neglect," he said.
The birds at the Hoke County Butterball farm are used for breeding purposes only and would not have been sold as food.
No birds had reportedly been euthanized at the time of this report's publication. Inspections are ongoing.