NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — An animal rights group on Thursday released an undercover video that shows Tyson Foods workers abusing and cruelly killing chickens at Virginia breeding facilities, prompting the company to fire 10 employees.
"We're disgusted by a video showing improper treatment of birds," the Arkansas company tweeted to its nearly 50,000 followers.
Christine Daugherty, a Tyson vice president, wrote in a statement that she was "outraged." She said the workers "were all trained in proper animal handling, yet chose to ignore it."
The company said it will "aggressively re-emphasize" its animal welfare policies to workers and end a practice known as "boning." It involves inserting a piece of plastic in a male bird's nostrils to stop it from accessing a female chicken's feeder.
The film released by the Washington, D.C.-based group Compassion Over Killing is one of several taken in recent months at poultry facilities. Animal rights groups contend the industry still treats animals inhumanely despite publicity over more compassionate practices, such as adding windows to poultry houses.
"There is no doubt that there is increasing national dialogue," said Erica Meier, executive director of Compassion over Killing. "But when you look at the undercover footage coming out, it's evident that animal cruelty remains a standard practice in the chicken industry."
The three minutes of footage show workers smacking fluffy white chickens and swinging them by their legs and wings. One worker steps on a bird's throat as it appears to suffocate. Chickens are crammed into cages. Some are crushed under vehicles.
"The best way we can protect chickens, and all animals, is simply to leave them off our plates," the film's narrator said.
Animal control officers in the southern Virginia counties where the Tyson facilities are located — Buckingham, Lunenberg and Mecklenburg — confirmed to The Associated Press that they are investigating allegations of animal abuse in the wake of the video.
In recent years, the poultry industry has gone through well-publicized changes. They include phasing out the use of antibiotics in meat consumed by humans and finding gentler ways of inducing unconsciousness before slaughter.
John Glisson, vice president of research at the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, said consumer demand and research have brought about those changes, not undercover videos.
"That's not an impetus for change; it's an impetus for managing people," he said of the Virginia footage.
Glisson said the industry continues to research better ways to treat animals, such as regulating temperatures in trucks as chickens are transported during winter and summer months.
"The poultry industry is working very hard to do the right thing, but it's not a snap finger deal," he said. "It's going to take some time."