As Thanksgiving nears, animal rights group decries conditions at turkey farm

Animal rights activists are accusing agribusiness Norbest, which bills itself as "humane" turkey processor, of mistreating birds. 

After a nine-month undercover investigation at a Moroni, Utah, farm that supplies turkeys to Norbest, Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) said it found turkeys packed shoulder-to-shoulder in "filthy industrial sheds." Many were diseased or suffering from injuries inflicted by other birds, the group said, which also claims that records found at the facility show that hepatitis and other diseases were spreading through the flock. 

As a result, workers at the farm added penicillin in the birds' water, according to DxE. Medical experts have said that practice may lead to people contracting antibiotic-resistant diseases. A video showing the turkey farm conditions is posted on DxE's website.

In an interview with CBS MoneyWatch, Norbest CEO Matt Cook said he found the images in DxE's video to be "disturbing" and noted that his company notified the farmer on Nov. 1 that he must correct all violations of Norbest's welfare policies before it would return turkeys to his care. Like other poultry processors, Norbest owns the birds and contracts with producers to raise them.

"Our company's animal-care guidelines are extremely clear," Cook said. "I suspended the contract of the farm as soon as I learned of these issues."

According to Cook, the last turkeys left the farm on Nov. 10. He wouldn't divulge the name of the operator other to note that he was a "second-generation" grower and that he was "deeply disappointed "in" him. Direct Action, which "rescued" a handful of sick and dying animals from the property, also declined to disclose the operator's name.

"Cleary, the birds were not taken care of as they were supposed to be," Cook said, adding that the company is taking steps to make sure the situation isn't repeated.  

"This is not representative of how our birds are grown," Cook said.

DxE disputes Cook's claims.

"Torturing turkeys is part of the standard practice of the industry," said Wayne Hsiung, DxE's lead investigator and attorney, in an email. "For example, they routinely burn the baby birds' faces and feet because they know the birds will otherwise trample or peck one another to death due to the crowded conditions on the farm. And the farm we investigated comprises a significant part of the Norbest supply chain -- 14 barns with anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 birds in each site. The truth is that standard practices in the industry are brutally cruel."

California-based DxE seeks "total animal liberation" and advocates a vegan lifestyle. It has targeted other meat processors, dairy operations and egg producer, for mistreating animals. The organization is planning demonstrations around the country this week to draw attention to the roughly 46 million turkeys expected to be killed for the Thanksgiving holiday.  

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