Representatives of animal advocacy group Mercy for Animals (MFA) held a press conference this morning in Uptown to release a video shot by an undercover worker at two North Carolina farms between October 30 and December 4 that led to the arrest of one man on animal cruelty charges this week.
The video, shot at Deese Farm and Hideaway Farms in Rockingham, North Carolina, can be seen below. It shows workers stomping chickens to death and throwing them forcefully against walls for seemingly no reason. It also depicts the terrible conditions in which the chickens at these farms live; in windowless warehouses crammed together with hundreds of thousands of other birds living in their own waste. Chickens who survive these conditions and don't die of, for example, ammonia burns from their own urine, often die of heart attacks and other complications that arise due to selective breeding that makes them outgrow their hearts.
Danny Miranda, a worker with both farms, was arrested Tuesday evening and charged with four counts of felony animal cruelty in connection with the video. He is currently being held on $10,000 bond and could face two years in prison for each charge. Deese Farm and Hideaway Farms are both owned by the same father-and-son, according to MFA, and are contracted to supply chicken to Perdue Farms. Vandhana Bala, general counsel for MFA, praised the Richmond County Sheriff's Office and District Attorney's Office for acting on the abuse seen in the video, but believes more can be done.
"We believe those in charge of the farms and those at Perdue Farms should be held accountable for the actions of these workers," Bala said. "This is sickening animal cruelty that no company with morals should support."
Despite the fact chickens make up for 95 percent of the animals killed for food in the United States, there are currently no federal laws regulating how they can be killed. Bala said MFA has been in contact with representatives of Perdue Farms, but called their concerns "too little, too late."
Dr. Bruce Stewart-Brown, a veterinarian in charge of overseeing live production at Perdue Farms, released a statement following Miranda's arrest. In it, he said he was "appalled" at the conditions depicted in the video. He specifically pointed out that birds with obvious leg and health issues were left to suffer, and called that disturbing, without acknowledging the more aggressive behavior shown by contract workers, such as punting live chickens like footballs.
"(We are) committed to working with law enforcement to identify everyone involved and hope that Mercy For Animals will cooperate to facilitate those efforts," Stewart-Brown said in the statement. "We are committed to taking aggressive action to hold those involved accountable and to prevent similar behavior in the future."
Vandhana Bala speaks to residents and media at a press conference to release a new undercover video shot at a Perdue Farms supplier.
MFA is demanding that Perdue Farms re-commit to safer practices, including putting an end to selective breeding for rapid growth and replacing the live-shackle slaughter methods currently in use by the corporation. Those methods include shackling, shocking and slitting the throats of conscious chickens. The group also wants Perdue Farms to provide the birds with a healthier space that gives them more room and access to natural light. To hold them to these standards, MFA has suggested a technological approach that could turn everyone with a computer into a whistleblower. Bala said they have demanded that Perdue Farms install cameras at their supply farms and live-stream the feeds over the Internet 24/7. Perdue has not responded yet to these requests.
The request for live streams into these farms underscores a bigger issue for MFA: that undercover video like the one released this morning will be outlawed under a new law that will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2016. House Bill 405, also known as the Ag-Gag law, passed through state legislature in May. McCrory vetoed the bill but on June 3, lawmakers overrode that veto and the bill became law. The law holds whistleblowers financially liable for damages caused by their secretive filming or leaking of documents that could hurt the reputation of a corporation. North Carolina's law was seen as especially vile because it did not only include agricultural businesses but also child care facilities and nursing homes, among other businesses.
This morning, Bala spoke to the implications of the Ag-Gag law.
"The Ag Gag law represents the legislature's total disregard for the will of the people of North Carolina in an attempt to protect corporate profits and sweep evidence of animal cruelty under the rug. Once that Ag Gag law is in place, it will prevent the documentation and detection of the types of cruelty we just documented at Perdue Farms, for which an individual was arrested for violating the state laws of North Carolina," she said. "It will also jeopardize food safety, workers' rights and environmental conditions in North Carolina, so Mercy For Animals will continue to be an unwavering advocate for the voiceless farm animals of North Carolina and will explore every legal method of overturning this un-American and dangerous law."
Loren Hart is a Charlotte resident who came to the press conference after hearing about this most recent video. He was part of the effort to call McCrory's office to urge him to veto the Ag-Gag law, a successful but ultimately ill-fated cause, and now stands behind the "common sense" demands that MFA has made to Perdue.
"I think part of my disgust and the disgust that many of us feel is that this now is not a new story. It’s been going on in North Carolina and throughout our nation over and over again. We have many documented cases that show widespread abuse of this type," Hart said. "Major producers like Perdue and Tyson are really not doing the things that they need to be doing to ensure that changes are made. Right now these corporations are putting profits over animal welfare, over human health and over environmental health."