Eleven people working for one of the nation’s leading turkey producers have been charged with animal cruelty in Pennsylvania after state police said they were caught on video kicking, stomping and beating turkeys at several farms.
The workers were responsible for capturing and crating turkeys destined for slaughter, Pennsylvania State Police said Thursday. Police launched the probe in August 2021 in response to a complaint from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The animal rights group said it sent an undercover investigator to Plainville Farms to evaluate the marketing claims of a third-party labeling program that had designated Plainville as “animal welfare certified.”
The PETA investigator worked on a Plainville Farms crew for about three weeks and captured graphic video that appeared to show workers mistreating the birds.
“Every night, at every farm the crews worked at, these men threw turkeys, viciously kicked and stomped on them, and killed them in the most rampant, top-to-bottom display of cruelty to farmed animals we’ve ever seen,” Dan Paden, a PETA vice president, said in a phone interview.
The mistreatment took place at farms in Chester, Cumberland, Franklin, Fulton, Perry and Union counties, police said. A total of 139 charges were filed, including six felony counts of aggravated cruelty to animals and 76 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty. PETA said it’s unaware of a cruelty-to-livestock case involving more criminal counts.
“This was a lengthy, detailed investigation that involved reviewing a lot of evidence at multiple locations,” said Cpl. Michael Spada, a state police animal cruelty officer.
Plainville continues to advertise its turkeys as “humanely raised” in a “stress-free environment,” even after the company was suspended from an animal welfare and labeling program run by Global Animal Partnership. Its turkey products come with an “Earthwise” seal — which is not an independent labeling program, but a term Plainville trademarked in 2008.
PETA has asked the Federal Trade Commission to prohibit Plainville from “using false or misleading claims in advertising its turkey products.” An FTC spokesperson declined comment on whether the agency is investigating.
New Oxford, Pennsylvania-based Plainville has “zero tolerance for anything like the alleged actions of these former employees,” said Matt Goodson, the privately held company’s chief executive officer. The company fired the employees implicated in the abuse, began using stationary and body cameras during the catching process, and took other measures to prevent a recurrence, he said.
“Plainville remains committed to the highest welfare standards for our animals and customers. We believe that it’s important for incidents like this to come to light in order to challenge our industry to do better,” he said in a statement Thursday.
The company’s turkey products are sold at supermarket chains including Publix and Wegmans.
Plainville employs about 600 workers and slaughtered about 90 million live pounds of turkey last year, according to WATT PoultryUSA, a trade publication.
PETA has long criticized Global Animal Partnership’s humane certification program as misleading and insufficient, and it chose Plainville from a long list of Global Animal Partnership-certified suppliers as a way to investigate the program, said Paden, the PETA vice president, adding that Plainville happened to have a job opening on a catching crew.
The undercover PETA investigator, who was hired by a staffing agency, documented instances in which co-workers stomped and kicked turkeys, clubbed them with rods, and picked them up by the heads and violently shook them, according to a brief video compilation released by PETA. The video appeared to show dead turkeys and injured turkeys writhing on the floor.
The PETA investigator did not take part in the abuse — gently herding the birds instead — and was berated for taking too long, Paden said.
“He was told repeatedly, ‘There’s not time for that, and if that’s how you’re going to do this, you need to find a different job,’” Paden said.
In a statement, Global Animal Partnership said it took swift action to suspend Plainville from the certification program in the wake of the PETA investigation. The partnership has certified more than 4,000 farms in 11 countries and says each farm is visited by a third-party inspector every 15 months to ensure compliance with the group’s animal welfare standards.
“In terms of Plainville, what happened was egregious, horrendous, and completely unacceptable,” the group said, adding it does “not tolerate the cruel treatment of turkeys, or any animal, in our program.”
This story has been updated to correct the name of one of the supermarket chains to Wegmans, instead of Wegners.
Michael Rubinkam, The Associated Press