This week, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) unveiled a report accusing a Minnesota chicken plant of animal cruelty. HSUS claims that one of its members worked at the poultry plant for nearly three months, all the while collecting secret footage of the poultry production process. However, there are several red flags that raise questions about the integrity of the HSUS footage and the corresponding report.
At issue is whether some of the chickens were not completely dead before entering a hot-water bath, which is used to help in the removal of feathers of slaughtered animals. HSUS says its undercover person witnessed this happening. But an attorney for the plant says this is highly unlikely:
Terry Fruth, a Minneapolis-based attorney for Butterfield Foods, said the company denies any charges of misuse of the birds and is looking into the case. Fruth said if the allegations are true, the company’s 130 other employees at the plant, as well as eight USDA inspectors, would have seen and reported them.
Further, there was an additional point brought up in a press statement put out by the National Chicken Council, a trade group:
[A]lmost all poultry processing plants, including Butterfield Foods, have employees stationed on the line before the scalder to make sure that birds are properly killed in accordance with FSIS requirements and industry guidelines. These employees serve as extra back-up to make sure no live birds enter the scalder. […]
No back-up employee is present in the video presented by HSUS, which raises several questions, the most serious of which is whether the animal rights activist himself was the back-up employee and abandoned his post to shoot this footage, purposely letting the live birds he was hired to protect enter the scalder, in order to advance the HSUS agenda. If true, this is not only sickening, it further reveals HSUS’s true colors and suggests that HSUS, not Butterfield, may be breaking the law.
Should farmers and processors be following the law? Absolutely. And if this processor wasn’t, then it’s definitely something the USDA should look into. However, the undercover video stunts by groups like HSUS and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are not investigations done by an unbiased, impartial official. These groups have a specific agenda to eliminate farms with animals. Unsurprisingly, their hidden videos are heavily edited to make that case. Just like the “reality shows” you suspect are scripted, hidden videos show a very small view of life on the farm and there’s no way to know if things are staged or orchestrated. The animal rights groups who make these videos usually refuse to give officials or the media the uncut video—a huge red flag.
The other issue at hand is that groups like HSUS often let abuse go on for days or months before saying anything in an effort to make the biggest media splash. In this case, HSUS says that its activist worked at the plant for 57 days. That’s two months of “investigation.” According to a press report, the local sheriff only received a complaint from HSUS on January 2. Meanwhile, the USDA says it started an investigation on January 6, which sounds like HSUS didn’t file a complaint with the food-safety and enforcement agency until—you guessed it—it was time for HSUS’s press conference.
Why did it take so long for HSUS to file a complaint with local authorities? It’s possible that nothing was wrong at the plant until recently. Or, more likely to us, HSUS wanted to wait until the new year to take advantage of a better media cycle when readers and reporters weren’t traveling for the holidays.
Whatever the investigation turns up, delays are a problem. But there’s an easy way to solve it: Require animal abuse to be reported to local authorities within a few days. There have been several bills in statehouses in recent years to require this. However, they’ve been hypocritically opposed by HSUS. Who could be against reporting animal abuse to authorities? Groups that cynically prefer media coverage. It’s a losing argument for HSUS, and legislators would be smart to push these bills.
HSUS has a moral obligation to report violations of protocol to the authorities immediately. Since it doesn’t want to, legislation is warranted. As for the investigation at the plant, we’ll see where it goes.