An animal rights group has targeted the Utah-based Norbest turkey plant in Moroni, releasing documents Monday that show the national producer allowed extreme confinement of birds, injured and diseased animals to go untreated, and sick poultry to be pecked to death by others in the flock.
The leader of Direct Action Everywhere says his group went undercover numerous times between January and September, collecting video, photographs and written documents from 14 turkey barns in Sanpete County that supply the Norbest plant.
The group released the shocking video and photographs just days before millions of Americans gather to enjoy a turkey dinner for the Thanksgiving holiday.
“I’ve been investigating animals for 10 years, and I’ve never seen anything as horrific,” co-founder Wayne Hsiung told The Salt Lake Tribune in a telephone interview.
The alleged problems in the Utah barns ranged from intensive confinement, injuries and disease — including hepatitis and animals with tumors and cysts on their heads, Hsiung said.
“Records from within the facility indicated that diseases such as hepatitis were spreading through the flock and that the farm had, in at least one case, resorted to the mass use of penicillin in the water.”
Hsiung said these practices “are contrary to the company’s public statements that they are a humane facility and prohibit the routine use of antibiotics.”
Matt Cook, Norbest president and CEO, said he was disappointed to see the video and photographs because they were taken at a farm that has had problems in the past.
“Prior to our company having any knowledge of the disturbing photos, our animal care team had documented violations at the farm in question and advised the owner that he must correct all violations before we would consider returning birds to his care,” Cook said in a written statement.
Norbest’s animal care policy, Cook said, states that “animal abuse in any form will not be tolerated” and failure to abide by the policy “may result in disciplinary action, up to and including employment or contract termination and where appropriate, prosecution under applicable laws.’
Norbest is one of the largest marketing cooperatives in the United States, selling turkeys raised by some 40 Utah farmers. Combined, it produces 5 million turkeys annually.
“We are committed to the care of our birds and have well-established animal care standards,” he said, “which makes it even more disappointing to see the disturbing photos.
Direct Action, sometimes referred to as DxE, is a nonprofit based in California and is known for breaking into factory farms at night and chronicling what activists see with video and photographs. Often, the group takes animals it asserts are being mistreated and tries to nurse them back to health.
In July 2017, DxE released an undercover video it says shows mistreatment of animals in the barns at Circle Four Farms in Milford, Utah. The plant is owned by the Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, one of the largest pig production operations in the United States.
That DxE video also showed extreme animal conditions — from sows with bloody and mangled teats to piglets living in feces. Hsiung and his group “rescued” two of the piglets, named them “Lucy” and “Ethel” and took them two the Ching Farm Animal Rescue and Sanctuary in Riverton, Utah, and Luvin Arms in Erie, Colo.
At the time the videos were released, officials at Smithfield Foods — which is owned by Shuanghui International, one of China’s largest meat processors — denied the allegations of mistreatment and said the video had blatant inaccuracies.
Hsiung said DxE uses the undercover tactics in hopes of exposing companies that use false advertising and marketing claims. “We believe Americans have a right to know how their food is being produced and animals being treated,” he said.
“Factory farms are inherently cruel and bad for the environment and bad for human heath,” Hsiung said. “You cannot raise 10,000 birds standing shoulder to shoulder and not have disease.”
The group also hopes cities, states and the federal government will “encourage more transparency in the country’s food system, rather than passing ag gag laws,” he said, a reference to states like Utah that passed laws that forbid undercover filming or photography of activity on farms.
In July, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby decided that Utah’s law was unconstitutional and appeared tailored toward preventing undercover investigators from exposing abuses at agricultural facilities.