Tyson contract farm faces animal abuse claims

by Erica Shaffer
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DAGSBORO, Del. – An animal welfare group released an undercover video taken at a Delaware poultry farm that depicts acts of animal abuse and poor living conditions. McGinnis Farms, a grow-out facility in Dagsboro, Del., is a contract grower for Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods Inc.

Mercy For Animals alleges birds at the farm “are crammed into filthy, windowless sheds.” MFA also alleges workers mishandled and abused chicks and chickens. In a statement, Tyson Foods said the company offered to meet with MFA to discuss its concerns. However, “the group declined and chose to hold news conferences instead.”

Nathan Runkle, MFA president, urged Tyson to end selective breeding for rapid growth, provide the birds more space, clean litter and access to sunlight and replace live-shackle slaughter systems, among other things.

“Tyson Foods has not only the power, but also the ethical responsibility to end the worst forms of cruelty to animals in its supply chain,” Runkle said in a statement.

Tyson Foods responded that conditions at McGinnis Farms were not typical at the time the video was taken.

“Our farmers work hard to raise healthy birds, however, sometimes chickens — just like people — get sick,” Tyson said. “At the time this video was shot this past spring, this farm had birds that were sick with a respiratory illness. As a result, what was shown in the video is not typical for this or any other farm. It was also not a food safety issue.”

Additionally, Tyson Foods already has an animal welfare audit program which was established in 2012.

“Animal well-being is a top priority for us,” Tyson said. “We do not tolerate improper animal treatment and take claims of animal abuse very seriously. We are investigating this matter.

“We have programs and policies in place to protect the health and well-being of all our animals. This includes the Tyson FarmCheck program that involves third-party auditors who check on the farm for such things as animal access to food and water, human-animal interaction and worker training.”

The Tyson FarmCheck Program allows the company to audit the treatment of livestock and poultry produced by its suppliers. The program includes an Animal Well-Being Advisory Panel, Farm Animal Well-Being Research Program, and an internal management team led by Dr. Christine Daugherty, vice president of Animal Well-Being Programs and Technology.

On the company’s website, Tyson Foods’ position statement says in part: “Consumers deserve to know their food is produced responsibly, using established best practices for animal handling. At Tyson Foods, we take that responsibility very seriously. As a company, one of our Core Values is to serve as stewards of the animals that we depend on to operate. For us, proper animal handling is an important moral and ethical obligation.”

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