An animal rights group said Wednesday that a Virginia farm that raised chickens for Tyson Foods mistreated the animals, allowing some of them to go without feed and water at times.
But Tyson says it cut ties with the farm in January after it uncovered animal welfare issues there on its own.
The group, Animal Outlook, said it had an investigator working undercover at Jannat Farm from August to November of last year observing as 150,000 birds were raised from chicks until they were ready for slaughter. In addition to seeing chickens go without feed for up to 52 hours, the group said it documented instances of physical abuse and filthy conditions at the farm.
The Associated Press could not immediately locate a contact at the farm itself. A spokesman for Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson, which processes 20% of U.S. beef, chicken and pork, denounced the conditions Animal Outlook documented in video and pictures shot at the farm and said the company ended its contract with the farm because it wasn't meeting Tyson's animal welfare standards.
"Since January 2023, no Tyson Foods birds have been placed on this farm and the farmer no longer has a contract to grow for Tyson Foods," spokesman Derek Burleson said. "We have a longstanding commitment to the welfare, proper handling, and humane treatment and care of animals in our supply chain."
Animal Outlook's Executive Director Cheryl Leahy said Tyson should have known about the abuse sooner because the farm had been raising chickens for the meat producer for at least seven years, and the company had a manager overseeing operations there. Plus, Tyson was responsible for delivering the feed chickens went without for more than two days. Video shot by the group's investigator also shows chickens being thrown and kicked by farm workers and in at least one case a worker ripped off the head of a chicken.
"There is absolutely no excuse," Leahy said. "The day-to-day suffering of these birds is palpable in each of the videos. Still, Tyson delivered birds, year after year."
Leahy said she believes Tyson's decision to end its contract with this farm may have been related more to its decision to shut down a processing plant in the area this spring — not animal welfare concerns.
"It's very clear that Tyson is an important part of the puzzle here, and the cruelty that we see in this investigation is systemic," said Leahy, who cited two previous investigations her group has done at farms affiliated with Tyson.
The group filed a complaint with the local district attorney asking for a criminal investigation into the way the chickens were treated that was forwarded on to the state attorney general's office.
In addition to the abuse Animal Outlook found, the group said this farm failed to follow good biosecurity practices to limit the spread of disease despite the ongoing bird flu outbreak that has prompted officials to slaughter nearly 59 million chickens and turkeys to limit the spread of that virus.
Animal Outlook said workers failed to sanitize their boots in bleach before they entered barns, and some of the buildings had openings that could allow wild animals to get inside. Experts believe bird flu is primarily spread by the droppings of wild birds as they migrate past farms.
The animal rights group said its investigator also found instances of bugs in some of the chicken feed and rats in the barns where the chickens were housed.