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Humane Society: Minn. Hatchery Mistreats Turkeys

WILLMAR, Minn. (AP) -- An undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States found that young turkeys were routinely abused at a central Minnesota hatchery that is a major U.S. supplier of turkeys destined for grocery stores, the animal rights group said Tuesday.

The organization's investigator worked undercover at Willmar Poultry Co. for 11 days in October, using a hidden camera to document how the young turkeys were handled.

In a report released two days before Thanksgiving, the society said turkeys that were sick, deformed or injured -- as well as healthy birds not needed for buyers' orders -- were thrown alive into a grinding machine.

Willmar Poultry said its employees receive training on animal welfare policies, but acknowledged that the video shows some workers may not be following those policies.

The Humane Society said it targeted the company because of its size. Founded in 1945, Willmar Poultry hatches about 30 million turkeys a year at its facility in Willmar and another 15 million in Foley.

"We've done several investigations at factory farms and slaughter plants, but this is our first investigation at a turkey hatchery," Humane Society spokesman Paul Shapiro told the West Central Tribune.

The Humane Society said it also found that sick and injured young birds were thrown into plastic bins or left on the floor through the day until they are sent down a chute into a grinding machine, and birds suffering from broken necks or missing limbs.

"Our latest investigation exposes a callous disregard for animal welfare in the turkey industry," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society. "It's unacceptable for workers to leave injured and non-ambulatory animals to suffer on the floor for hours on end, only to then send them to their deaths in a grinder."

After viewing the video, Willmar Poultry president and chief operating officer Rick VanderSpek told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis that "birds on the floor are just not acceptable. Grabbing a whole bunch of birds . they are going to drop birds handling them like that."

VanderSpek said the undercover employee "obviously found things that we might not have seen."

"We might use this as a training tool," VanderSpek told the Star Tribune. "We've got to just slow the process down and train people properly."

The company said much of what the video shows is acceptable practice in the industry.

Disposing of live hatchlings by grinding is "a fairly common practice" that is carried out by high-speed equipment, said Shirley Noll, a poultry expert with the University of Minnesota Department of Animal Science.

"Death is instantaneous," Noll told the Star Tribune.

Minnetonka-based Cargill, one of Willmar Poultry's customers, has reviewed the Humane Society's findings and found nothing out of the norm, Cargill spokesman Mike Martin said.

Shapiro, the Humane Society spokesman, said his organization wants to establish more humane practices within the hatchery industry.

"Most people don't want animals to be treated cruelly," he told the West Central Tribune.

(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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