Activists, citing tape from chicken plant, pursue cruelty charges against Perdue

Updated Oct. 29, 2004, 10:56 a.m. ET

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — An animal advocacy group wants prosecutors to press animal cruelty charges against Perdue Farms Inc., after an activist secretly videotaped chickens flapping wildly after their throats were slit on a processing line.

The activist worked from Sept. 16 to Oct. 1 at a processing plant in Showell, a complex that Perdue is closing next week to streamline operations. The animal rights group filed a complaint this week with the local sheriff and state's attorney's office.

The seven-minute videotape shows piles of live chickens being shoved and thrown down a processing line. They are shown hanging upside down as their throats are slit. Afterward, the cut birds flap wildly.

"From the very first day our investigator worked, he saw animal cruelty on a regular basis," said Paul Shapiro, campaigns director for the nonprofit Compassion Over Killing.

The group says it will use the tape to press KFC to require humane animal treatment by its suppliers, which include Salisbury-based Perdue. KFC officials said Thursday they purchase only 2 percent of their products from Perdue; both companies said none of Showell's chickens go to KFC, a subsidiary of Louisville, Ky.-based Yum Brands Inc.

Perdue officials say they saw no "intentional cruelty" in the videotape, and that the workers have since been shown how to handle the animals with more care.

"There are some incidents in the video in which associates should have handled birds with greater care, and we have counseled those associates," said Bruce Stewart-Brown, a veterinarian who serves as Perdue's vice president of food safety and quality.

But the animal rights group believes footage and daily logs kept by its investigator show enough evidence of inhumane treatment to merit prosecution under Maryland's animal cruelty statute.

State's attorney Joel Todd's office said prosecutors wouldn't handle the case until it was investigated by deputies. Worcester County Sheriff Charles Martin was out of the office and unavailable for comment.

The Showell plant processes 25.5 million chickens a year. Perdue is the third-largest poultry producer in the United States.