Photo By: Lesley P. Nobles
"He came forward from a world that's completely
locked away out of sight. Very few people have the courage."
- UPC President Karen Davis, quoted in "A Killing Floor Chronicle."
For 5 years Virgil Butler killed 80,000 birds per shift on a
9-man team in a Tyson chicken slaughter plant in Arkansas until
Tyson fired him in 2002.
Two months later, Butler described slaughterhouse abuses —"just
a part of a regular night's work" — at a news conference
sponsored by PETA. Only one reporter came, and no one wrote it
up. But over the next few months, animal rights groups featured
Butler on their websites and in their newsletters. (See the Spring
and Summer-Fall 2003 issues of PoultryPress.) "Each
time they did, hundreds of e-mails poured in, thanking him for,
as one writer put it, 'being a voice for the animals.'
"Amazed, emboldened, Butler began to think of himself as
more than an assembly-line killer. He gave up his fried ham and
pork rinds in favor of a vegan diet."
And he started a website recounting his experience at Tyson:
the birds' horrific slaughter, broken bones, electric shocks,
bruises, and being boiled alive in scald tanks; co-workers ripping
off the heads of live chickens, stomping them to death and blowing
them up with dry-ice bombs for fun. Butler knows the chickens'
panic: "sometimes, you catch one looking up at you, eye to
eye, and you know it's terrified."
Butler took his first job in the poultry industry at 14 when
he joined a crew that went "from farm to farm, grabbing chickens
and stuffing them into wooden crates for transport to the slaughterhouses."
Later, he took a job killing chickens at Tyson where the live
birds are considered nothing more than "pre-processed product."
"But the longer he worked the kill floor, Butler said, the
more it began to disturb him." He took drugs, started carrying
a knife. "It felt like you were losing your humanity,"
he recalls. "There is blood everywhere. It's just you and
the dying chickens. You are ashamed to tell others what you do
at night while they are asleep in their beds."
Though Tyson disputes Butler's claims, after logging on to his
website the company "announced plans to inspect its slaughterhouses
to ensure humane treatment of the 42 million chickens it slaughters
each year." [UPC Editor's note: Even if sincerely attempted,
these "plans" could not be carried out under the current
system of hanging the birds upside down in shackles and submerging
them in a torturous electrified water trough designed to paralyze
their muscles to release their feathers and keep them from flapping
rather than to relieve their suffering.]
Plugged to a computer in a battered camper in the mountains of
Arkansas, Virgil Butler and his partner, Laura Alexander, are
taking the plight of chickens to the world. As Butler explains
it: "One person can make a difference if you just don't shut
up. If you keep talking long enough, people will hear you."
Butler and Alexander run a chat room at:
Butler's website: www.cyberactivist.blogspot.com.
LA Times article: www.upc-online.org/slaughter
- Plan to attend UPC's Fifth Annual Forum, Aug. 21-22, 2004,
in Virginia, and hear Virgil Butler speak about his experience
at Tyson. (More about our Forum in future issues of PoultryPress.)
- Order our new booklet Poultry Slaughter: The Need
for Legislation. $2 per copy incl.
shipping. $1 per copy if you order 3 or more. Also available
on line at www.upc-
PO Box 2020
Springdale, AR 72765
Ph: 479-290-4000. Fax: 479-290-3923
Customer Hotline: 800-643-3410