Pilgrim’s Pride investigating alleged chicken abuse

GREELEY – Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. (Nasdaq: PPC) said Monday that it has launched an investigation into a supplier of its chickens that allegedly mistreated the birds by stuffing them in buckets and burying them alive.

A video filmed in January and February this year by an undercover investigator for animal rights activist group Compassion Over Killing shows workers of Prince Poultry of North Carolina filling an underground facility with live chickens.

The live chickens had been stuffed into buckets with apparently dead chickens. A worker is shown removing them from the buckets and crowding them into an outdoor pit, where Compassion Over Killing suggests they were left to die of starvation, dehydration or possibly suffocation. Compassion Over Killing posted the video on its website.

Chicken growers have other, humane means to euthanize birds instead of burying them alive, said Erica Meier, executive director for Washington, D.C.,-based Compassion Over Killing.

Calls made to a number listed online as belonging to Prince Poultry were not answered Monday.

Pilgrim’s Pride has suspended its relationship with Prince Poultry and is investigating the “startling images of birds being mistreated,” according to an email statement issued by JBS USA spokeswoman Misty Barnes. JBS USA owns a controlling interest in Pilgrim’s Pride.

“The actions in the video are unacceptable,” reads the statement. “The proper treatment of animals, whether under our direct care or under the care of our contract growers, is one of our core beliefs. We will not tolerate the abuse of animals.”

Compassion Over Killing released last year another video of alleged animal cruelty at Quannah Cattle Co., a subsidiary of J.D. Heiskell & Co. in Kersey. The video showed workers kicking, dragging and throwing calves on the ground as they unloaded them from a trailer into a facility. Three men were ticketed on misdemeanor animal cruelty charges.

“Undercover investigation after undercover investigation is routinely documenting cruelty behind these closed doors,” Meier said. “It’s starting to show this pattern that animal abuse is standard practice in animal agribusiness.”

The Weld County Sheriff’s Office ticketed the Compassion Over Killing activist on an animal cruelty charge, accusing her of failing to immediately report the incident. The Weld County District Attorney’s Office later said it dismissed the charge because it could not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.