Butterball Turkey Farms Accused of Cruelty to Animals by Activist Group

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With Thanksgiving right around the corner and turkey the main event at most dinner tables, an animal rights group is alleging that Butterball workers at five North Carolina farms in Lenoir, Duplin, Onslow and Sampson Counties have been engaged in a pattern of "shocking abuse and neglect."

A hidden-camera video released on Wednesday by Mercy For Animals shows workers in October 2012, apparently kicking and stomping turkeys, dragging them by their wings and necks, and slamming them onto the ground, on top of other birds or on transport crates. The group said on its website that the birds suffered from "serious untreated illnesses and injuries, including open sores, infections, and broken bones."

Between November and December of 2011, the group, which advocates a vegan lifestyle, videotaped nearly identical abuses at a Butterball turkey farm in Shannon, N.C., which resulted in two employees pleading guilty to cruelty to animals. According to the Associated Press, in August 2012, one employee, Brian Douglas, who was found guilty of a felony, was sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined $550. Four other workers were also charged in the case.

Matt Rice, director of investigations for Mercy for Animals, reported the new transgressions to law enforcement officials. "So far no arrests have been made, but they are identical abuses," he told ABC News.

In a statement to ABC News, Stephanie Llorente, Butterball's public relations manager, said that the company has a "zero tolerance policy for animal abuse," adding that the company immediately initiated an internal investigation and suspended the associates in question. "Pending the completion of that investigation, Butterball will then make a determination on additional actions including immediate termination for those involved," she said.

Privately-held Butterball LLC says on its website that it's the largest vertically integrated turkey producer in the United States and accounts for 20 percent of total U.S. turkey production with 5,000 employees at five plants, including the 675,000-square-foot plant at Mt. Olive, N.C., the world's largest.