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Maryland chicken plant investigated after video shows alleged animal abuse

Compassion Over Killing, an animal rights group, released footage that allegedly shows mistreated birds at an Amick plant in Hurlock, Md. (Video: Compassion Over Killing)

A chicken-processing facility on Maryland’s Eastern Shore said it is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture after an animal rights group released graphic video that appeared to depict workers mistreating birds.

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The video, released by Washington-based animal advocacy group Compassion Over Killing, appears to show birds at an Amick Farms plant in Hurlock, Md., being punched and thrown as workers keep up with a fast-moving production line.

The footage, shot by an activist working undercover at the plant this past summer, also appears to show what Compassion Over Killing says are birds drowning in electrified stunning baths and others with red skin, an indication they were scalded by hot water while still alive, the­ ­group­ said.

In a statement, Amick Farms President Ben Harrison said the company recently learned of the allegations and about a “surreptitious, highly edited video made by a former, short-time employee with ties to the animal rights activist group.”

“Some of the actions in the video are clear violations of our animal welfare policies and our company values,” the statement said. “We are taking all appropriate actions including, but not limited to, further training, swift disciplinary action, and a more rigorous approach to ensuring compliance with our policies for the humane handling of our birds.”

A spokesman for the USDA confirmed the agency was investigating the allegations. An Amick spokesman declined further comment.

Compassion Over Killing criticized the Trump administration’s decision to grant waivers to some chicken plants that allow them to operate at higher speeds, processing up to 175 birds per minute, up from 140.

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“USDA’s plan to allow even more slaughterhouses to increase kill line speeds that are already dangerously fast is a reckless step backwards,” Compassion Over Killing executive director Erica Meier said in a statement. “Animals, workers and consumers need more protection, not less.”

The National Employment Law Project, which advocates for policies that help workers, also opposed the change, saying it could harm worker safety.

“The USDA regulates food safety in these plants,” said project director Deborah Berkowitz. “But at the same time, the mission of the USDA is to promote the industry, increase profits in the industry and increase the amount of chickens the public eats. It’s a little bit of a contradictory mission.”

The USDA has said safety is of top importance, but the job of overseeing working conditions falls to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is part of the Labor Department.

The National Chicken Council, which represents the poultry industry, has praised the Trump administration’s move, noting that each plant must meet stringent criteria to obtain a waiver.

Based in South Carolina, Amick has facilities in three states, according to its website, and is part of OSI, the 11th-largest meat producer in the world.

Heather Long contributed to this report.

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