Arrests made in NC turkey farm abuse case

by Erica Shaffer
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HOKE COUNTY, NC – Six workers employed at a Butterball turkey farm in Hoke County, NC, were arrested on animal-abuse charges after an undercover video revealed alleged animal abuse, and a veterinarian at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture was charged and suspended from her job in connection with the incident.

The arrests stem from an undercover video taken by Mercy for Animals, an animal rights group. Hoke County law enforcement officials raided the farm on Dec. 28, 2011 after seeing the undercover video. Ruben Mendoza was charged with felony theft and misdemeanor animal cruelty. Jose Garcia was charged with felony identity theft, and Terry Johnson was charged with misdemeanor cruelty to animals. A representative of the Hoke Country Sheriff's Department said more arrests are pending.

In addition, Dr. Sara Mason, a veterinarian with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, was suspended from her job without pay following an internal investigation by the agriculture department. She pleaded guilty to obstructing justice and obstructing a police officer. Mason admitted tipping off a veterinarian at the facility that undercover video had been taken, but she denied telling anyone about the criminal investigation or the raid. She was sentenced to 45 days in jail, but the sentence was suspended in exchange for 12 months unsupervised probation. Mason will also be required to attend ethics training courses.

In response to the incident, Butterball said the company has fully cooperated with Hoke County law enforcement officials in the investigation, and four employees were fired for failing to comply with the company’s animal care and well-being standards.

"Animal care and well-being are central to who Butterball is as a company, and we are committed to the care and well-being of our turkey flocks," the company said in a written statement.

"We are closely re-evaluating our animal-care and well-being policies and practices and have already established several new initiatives — including reviewing scientific literature and enhancing the company program, re-training associates on animal care and well-being, elevating animal care and well-being to a position that reports directly to the CEO, and conducting extensive third-party audits by national experts — that reinforce this commitment."

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