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December 22, 2009

Shareholder Resolution Urges Smithfield to Help Decrease Suffering of Butterball Turkeys

The Humane Society of the United States submitted a shareholder resolution Tuesday asking Smithfield, Va.-based Smithfield Foods, which owns a 49 percent stake in Butterball, to urge the national turkey company to switch to a better slaughter method called controlled-atmosphere killing.

Currently, in Butterball's slaughter plants, workers unload live turkeys from crates and force their legs into metal shackles. Birds are then shocked with electrified water and have their throats cut, often while they are conscious. After, they enter a tank of scalding water. Some birds are still conscious at this point and drown in the scalding-hot water.

Controlled-atmosphere killing would eliminate these abuses by killing the birds with a mixture of inert gases while they are still in their transport crates. With CAK, workers never handle live birds, and there is no chance for live-throat cutting or -scalding. CAK—which is used by seven U.S. turkey slaughterhouses as well as to kill roughly 75 percent of all turkeys in the U.K.—has also been shown to have an array of financial benefits, including improved product quality and yield, as well as reduced contamination and worker injuries.

Temple Grandin, Ph.D., a scientific advisor to Smithfield, writes that "overall bird welfare would be improved with gas stunning" and that "The U.S. poultry industry should move toward" this method.

"As a major Butterball shareholder, Smithfield can use its considerable influence to move the company toward reducing needless animal suffering," stated Matt Prescott, outreach director of The HSUS's factory farming campaign. "By switching to controlled-atmosphere killing, Butterball would greatly reduce the suffering its birds endure and improve its bottom line."

A copy of The HSUS's shareholder resolution is available upon request.

Facts:

  • Many major poultry retailers—including Quiznos, Ruby Tuesday, Safeway, Harris Teeter, Winn-Dixie and Costco—have begun using turkey slaughtered by CAK. Others—including Burger King, Chipotle, Popeye's, Hardee's and Carl's Jr.—give purchasing preference to chicken suppliers that switch to CAK.
  • Workers at a Butterball facility in Arkansas were documented punching and kicking live birds, stomping on birds' heads, and sexually assaulting them.

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization—backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty—on the web at humanesociety.org.

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