(CHARLESTON, W.Va., July 21st, 2004, 9:45 p.m.) -- A poultry processing plant fired 11 workers on Wednesday, a day after an animal rights group released a secretly shot video of workers kicking, stomping and smashing chickens against walls at the West Virginia facility.
Pilgrim's Pride, a supplier for KFC chicken restaurants, said three of those fired at its plant in Moorefield were managers and eight were hourly workers.
"We will continue with this investigation until we're confident that every employee -- regardless of rank -- who had knowledge of these incidents has been held accountable for their actions," president and chief operating officer O. B. Goolsby said Wednesday evening.
The Pittsburg, Texas-based company said it has put quality assurance monitors on both shifts at the plant, and managers at its 24 other North American plants were told to educate workers about animal welfare policies.
The grainy videotape, which was released over the Internet, was secretly recorded between October and May by an investigator with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
The group said its investigator also obtained eyewitness testimony about employees "ripping birds' beaks off, spray-painting their faces, twisting their heads off, spitting tobacco into their mouths and eyes, and breaking them in half -- all while the birds are still alive."
KFC President Gregg Dedrick said the fast-food company will stop buying from the Moorefield plant until Pilgrim's Pride can ensure no future abuse will occur. KFC also will place a full-time inspector in the plant to watch for further abuse.
PETA and the Humane Society of the United States want Hardy County Prosecutor Lucas See to charge workers and managers with animal cruelty. See said Wednesday he has not finished viewing the videotapes.
Under state law, employees found to have tortured the birds could be charged with felony animal cruelty, which carries a prison sentence of one to three years.
PETA spokesman Michael McGraw said the group also wants all KFC suppliers to install cameras on slaughter lines that he said move too quickly and are staffed by poorly paid workers and uncaring managers. PETA also wants the phase-in of "controlled atmosphere killing," in which chickens are gathered by machines instead of people.
"In cases where workers are paid so little -- and they really do have terrible jobs -- they tend to take out their frustrations on the animals," McGraw said. "Modern technology can actually be more humane."
Pilgrim's Pride is among the largest poultry producers in the United States and Mexico, with more than 40,000 employees in 17 states, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
PETA has been pressuring KFC since last year, when it sued the company and called for a boycott, demanding that KFC require suppliers to treat animals more humanely.
Separately, the Humane Society's president, Wayne Pacelle, demanded that Congress hold hearings on the videotape and called for the expansion of federal laws to protect poultry from abuse.
A Pilgrim's Pride spokesman, Ray Atkinson, said the company would cooperate with any government investigation.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)