Based on a chilling eyewitness account of sadistic
torture and routine cruelty at a Tyson chicken slaughterhouse
in Grannis, Ark., People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
(PETA) is calling for prosecution of Tyson Foods and five of its
employees on charges of cruelty to animals.
Virgil Butler, a Tyson slaughterhouse employee for
more than five years, contacted PETA to alert the group to the
extreme animal abuse that he had witnessed, including birds being
blown apart by dry ice bombs and intentionally scalded to death
by the hundreds, and large chickens having their legs broken to
fit them into shackles that are too small.
Tyson Foods is the top supplier of chickens to KFC,
against which PETA launched an international campaign last month
in an effort to persuade the company to eliminate the worst animal
"Almost two years ago, KFC assured us it would
'raise the bar' on animal welfare, and yet we find that its key
supplier is now accused of horrendous cruelty to animals. We want
cameras all KFC and Tyson slaughterhouses and unannounced inspections,
not preannounced visits," says PETA Vegan Outreach director
Bruce Friedrich. "The abuse Mr. Butler says he has witnessed
is beyond appalling."
Among the improvements that PETA wants Tyson and
KFC to implement are: replacing crude and ineffective electric
stunning and throat-slitting with gas killing; phasing out the
forced rapid growth of chickens, which causes metabolic disorders
and lameness; increasing the space allotted per bird; and adding
minimal enhancements, such as perches in order to provide chickens
with some semblance of their natural environment.
My name is Virgil Butler. I worked at the Tyson
plant in Grannis, Arkansas from July, 1997 until November 12,
2002. I worked on the night shift in the Receiving department
as a live-hanger as well as on the kill-floor.
I personally witnessed many acts of cruelty toward
the chickens by employees of the plant on a nightly basis:
One of the most recent problems that I observed
was the night shift superintendent, Richard Frasier, turning down
the stunner and ordering the employees to leave it down. This
machine is the device that is supposed to stun chickens before
they are killed. Turning it down results in the chickens missing
the killing machine and evading the killer behind the machine,
so that they end up being scalded to death by water in the scalding
tank. The scalding tank loosens up the feathers so that they can
be picked out. The chickens are supposed to be dead before they
reach this point. I, as well as Ed Taylor (my immediate supervisor),
Troy Shepmann, and Aron Harris (fellow employees) argued this
action with Richard, who refused to stop doing this. We were not
given a reason behind Richard's decision.
The expected percentage that the killing machine
was supposed to kill by slitting throats was 86%. On an extremely
good night that percentage was accurate. The remaining chickens
would miss the blade altogether. Most nights the percentage would
fall to the high 70's. Some nights, even worse.
I was responsible for trying to slit the throats
of the chickens the machine missed on the nights I worked the
killing room. Our line runs 182 shackles per minute. It is physically
impossible to catch them all. Therefore, they are scalded alive.
When this happens, the chickens flop, scream, kick, and their
eyeballs pop out of their heads. Then, they often come out the
other end with broken bones and disfigured and missing body parts
because they've struggled so much in the tank. Sometimes, when
we had a line broken down, they would be left hanging upside down
in the stunner in the water to drown. In the stunner, the water
is cold and salted to better conduct the electricity. I have personally
seen them hang in this position for hours.
One night in early spring last year we lost hydraulic
pressure. Perhaps 300-400 chickens missed the stunner because
the line slowed down so much that the birds could avoid it while
those who were stunned were able to recover by the time they reached
the killing machine-which was only working sporadically. The live
birds were left hanging upside down in the scalders while the
machinery was being fixed. We could have quit hanging more chickens
at this point and let the line run empty while the killing machine
was off-line. Instead, we were ordered by Richard Frasier and
Ed Taylor to continue to hang the chickens, while Aron Harris
was required to kill all of them by hand. This could not be done
by one person, even at half the speed and it was clear to everyone
there that birds were going by untouched. Several hundred chickens
were scalded to death by this decision.
Most of my fellow employees were extremely abusive
to the chickens. Our job was simply to pick the chickens up off
of the belt and hang them upside down into the shackles. This
could rarely be accomplished without problems, due to several
We were extremely shorthanded, due to the horrendous
working conditions. This led to a high turnover rate with inexperienced,
frustrated, workers under pressure to keep the production numbers
up. If production fell, it would mean overtime work, so the belt
speed was turned up. This resulted in the belt becoming overloaded
in the area where the chickens awaited shackling, which ended
up smothering hundreds of chickens a night. I heard Richard Frasier
say, "I would rather smother a few hundred goddamned birds,
than to lose time because of empty shackles." (This was said
in late July, 2002 when temperatures in the hanging cage were
exceeding 100 degrees in the middle of the night.)
The absence of climate control is another cause
of unnecessary suffering that results in death to the chickens.
The heater in the "cage," which is the area where birds
are hung, worked less than half of the time I worked there. Many
times the temperatures would be well below freezing. This resulted
in the chickens freezing to the belt last winter and the winter
before. They froze to death this way inside the building, where
the temperature was below freezing. I and my co-workers complained
about this to Richard Frasier, but to no avail. He would just
turn and walk away. The reverse of this problem happened in the
summer time, where there is no adequate air conditioning. Most
of the time, it doesn't work at all, and blows hot air. This results
in the chickens dying of heat stroke, heart attack, and suffocation.
When the plant breaks down or when there are too
many chickens on the kill schedule for the shift, they are left
over for the next shift. For the night shift, this is not as bad
in the summer time as it is in the winter, because the chickens
are forced to sit out in the cages on the trucks. In the summer
on day shift, though, when they leave birds, they sit from 3:30
p.m. until 9 p.m. under a tin shed roof with no water and no food.
I have seen hundreds die of dehydration from this practice. This
could be remedied by simply stopping the catchers from catching
any more until the problem in the plant is resolved or by not
scheduling as big a kill to begin with.
These uncomfortable conditions, coupled with the
unrelenting pressure to keep the shackles filled at all costs,
lead to much frustration and outright rage among the employees.
I have witnessed Troy Shepmann build dry ice bombs
(made by putting dry ice and a small amount of water in a plastic
Pepsi bottle and screwing the lid down tight) and putting it on
the belt with live chickens during break time. This results in
a high pressure explosion that rips the chickens' bodies apart
and scatters them all over the room. This occurred numerous times,
but the one I remember the most was one night last June when he
made a small dry ice bomb by shoving a piece of dry ice up a live
chicken's rectum, then plugging it with a wooden cork. It built
up enough pressure inside the chicken to blow it apart.
I have also seen Aron Harris rip the heads, legs,
and wings off of live chickens, or just stomp them to death on
the floor because he was aggravated. This occurred on a regular
basis for about the last year and a half that I worked there.
I have also seen George Watson, a forklift driver,
run over the chickens on purpose, then laugh about it. These kinds
of incidents were ongoing and repetitive--just a part of a regular
Other problems that came up when I worked there
were a result of mismanagement. One, in particular, happened several
times when we would get orders for bigger birds. The worst was
in the week ending on September 14 of last year. In this instance
we were given thousands of chickens to hang that were above the
size limit we were used to. The shackles were not designed to
fit the oversize legs of the chickens. They were too small for
their legs to fit into. In the process of hanging the live birds,
we were forced to break their legs to get them to fit into the
shackles. This was unnecessary. The shackles could have been spread
out to fit the larger-sized birds. It would only have taken about
an hour for two maintenance personnel to accomplish this. However,
Richard Frasier decided that it wasn't necessary and didn't want
to lose the production time to do it.
According to published plant progress reports,
most of the chicken run by this plant is destined for shipment
to Kentucky Fried Chicken. We processed deboned thigh and leg
meat and boneless, skinless split breasts. Most of the deboned
meat is shipped to a further processing plant where it is made
into chicken nuggets for KFC.
I am writing this letter because I want to see
something done about this cruelty. I don't wish to be a part of
the nightmare any longer and am willing to speak out about this
to anyone at any time.