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November 2006
Butterball’s House of Horrors
The Satya Interview With Matt Prescott


Turkeys at the Butterball Turkey Slaughterhouse. Courtesy of PETA

This Thanksgiving, 45 million turkeys will be slaughtered and eaten. That’s one sixth of all turkeys sold in the U.S. each year—675 million pounds of animal flesh in one day!

While most people think of turkeys as their Thanksgiving dinner centerpiece, turkeys are extremely social and good-natured. Their personalities are as strong and varied as cats and dogs, perhaps even a bit smarter. People may also not be aware that turkeys raised for food are confined to grow-out sheds where they are forced to stand on mounds of fecal waste and breathe in toxic ammonia fumes. When only a few hours old hours old, a portion of their beaks and toes are severed without the aid of anesthesia. Although birds constitute more than 98 percent of land animals eaten in the U.S., the USDA refuses to list them in the only federal law designed to protect animals at slaughter, the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.

This year PETA investigators worked undercover for 40 days as “live hangers”—people who receive live birds and shackle them for slaughter—at a Butterball turkey plant owned by ConAgra Foods in Ozark, Arkansas. Inside the slaughterhouse, investigators witnessed and filmed some of the most atrocious acts of cruelty to animals. PETA is currently calling for criminal cruelty-to-animals charges to be filed against the employees and owner of Butterball.

Kymberlie Adams Matthews caught up with Matt Prescott, PETA’s Manager of Factory Farming Campaigns to discuss Butterball cruelty.

Tell us about PETA’s undercover investigation at the Butterball turkey slaughterhouse in Ozark, Arkansas. What conditions were witnessed?
PETA’s investigators witnessed Butterball workers punching and kicking live birds, slamming them against metal transport crates and trailers, and throwing them into concrete walls and floors. In one instance, a bird was slammed so hard against a handrail that her spine popped out. Another time, a worker stomped on a live turkey’s head until her skull exploded under his foot. One worker even sexually abused a bird, inserting a finger into her cloaca (her vagina). Aside from the sadistic acts of cruelty the workers would commit for “fun,” they routinely hung birds improperly—by broken legs, one leg or by the head.

PETA’s investigators also discovered that management at this plant had a flippant attitude about animal welfare. Unlike the procedures, forms and handbooks for everything else, the content of the animal welfare form was not covered in new employee training. Furthermore, employees who could not read or who could not read well, were provided no assistance in understanding the form. Management made comments about how “animal rights activists don’t like it when you kick a turkey” and that “animals have more rights than people now a days.” They also told workers not to worry if they hear a “popping” sound while working, that’s “just” a bird exploding under the tire of a truck.

What was your role in the investigation?
As the manager of PETA’s factory farming campaigns I was responsible for pulling together the materials of the investigation such as the investigator’s log notes, helping elicit statements from animal welfare experts, devising a media plan, communicating with Butterball regarding their plan to take disciplinary actions, etc.

The behavior of the workers is appalling. Why do you think the workers treat the animals this way?
Chicken and turkey slaughterhouses are dark, dismal places where underpaid workers are forced to endure long hours lifting heavy, flapping birds into shackles. Workers become frustrated and bored and take their frustration out on the birds around them—those who are the most convenient victims and certainly can’t defend themselves.

Roughly how many turkeys are killed in that particular Butterball slaughterhouse?
Roughly 50,000 birds a day are processed at Butterball’s Ozark plant.

Do you think what you saw is representative of other slaughterhouse facilities?
Every time PETA enters a factory farm or slaughterhouse we find the routine and sadistic abuse of animals. While employees at Butterball’s Ozark facility clearly violated Arkansas law and need to be punished for it, their actions mimic what we’ve found at many other plants nationwide.

One of our investigations at a Tyson slaughterhouse documented birds who were maimed by killing machines, scalded alive and abused by workers. During an investigation at a Pilgrim’s Pride slaughterhouse—which was KFC’s “Supplier of the Year”—employees were documented tearing live birds’ heads off, spitting tobacco into their eyes and spray painting their faces.

People need to understand that if they are eating animals, this is the type of abuse they are supporting.

How is PETA moving forward with the evidence gathered in this investigation? What do you hope to achieve?
Right now, the USDA chooses to exclude birds when enforcing the Humane Slaughter Act. PETA is using this investigation to push the federal government toward ensuring that birds are protected by the Act, and also using it to push the poultry industry toward controlled atmosphere killing (CAK). Top animal welfare experts like doctors Temple Grandin, Mohan Raj and Ian Duncan—as well as humane organizations like PETA and HSUS—all agree that CAK is the most humane method available for slaughtering birds. With CAK, the birds are placed into a chamber, while still in the transport crates they arrived in, where their oxygen is slowly replaced with a mixture of inert gasses, thereby gently putting them to sleep. Because workers never handle live birds with CAK, there is no chance of abuse and they do not experience the pain associated with having their throats slit or being defeathered in scalding-hot water while still concious.

This should not be confused with controlled atmosphere stunning (CAS) where birds may “wake up” prior to slaughter.

Of course, PETA is also using this investigation to show the public that the bird in the center of their table may have been punched, kicked or even sexually abused before becoming a centerpiece. Right now, the USDA is investigating the details of our investigation and local prosecutors are waiting to take action until the USDA investigation is complete.

With Thanksgiving coming up, are there any campaigns or actions going on to drive down turkey consumption?
PETA has been using video footage from this investigation, along with our “What’s Wrong With Eating Turkeys?” leaflet to encourage people to cut out the turkey from this Thanksgiving. People can visit our website to order leaflets, videos, stickers and other fun materials to help get the word out that eating animals supports sadistic abuse.

Is there anything else you would like to share?
PETA’s investigation has resulted in countless e-mails and phone calls from people interested in becoming vegetarian. Slaughterhouses are dark places hidden away from the public, and by bringing them into the light we are able to show the horrors that animals killed for food endure. Visit and forward the video footage to friends and family with a note about making this Thanksgiving a vegetarian one.

For more information visit