Ten employees of a chicken farm in Virginia affiliated with the nation's largest poultry producer were fired Tuesday after an animal rights group released graphic video that appeared to depict workers beating chickens to death.
The video from Compassion Over Killing, a Washington-based animal rights advocacy group, appeared to show workers stabbing, crushing and stomping on chicks at a Tyson Foods contractor in Temperanceville, Va., about three hours southeast of Washington. In the video, sick or injured birds appear to be killed, run over by forklifts or impaled on nails stuck into pipes, while dying chickens are thrown into piles of dead ones.
"You need to kill him?" one worker asks in the video. "Hit him on the head, then kill him."
In a statement, Doug Ramsey, group president of poultry for the Arkansas-based company, said Tyson terminated its contract with the farm and removed its birds from the facility.
Ten employees of the farm were fired, he said.
In response to the video, Ramsey said Tyson would conduct a video conference with senior managers at poultry facilities to "stress our cultural commitment to proper animal handling."
"We're outraged by what's shown in this video," Ramsey's statement read. "The actions of these people are egregious, inexcusable and will not be tolerated by Tyson Foods."
Tyson wouldn't identify the farm where the video was filmed, but Compassion Over Killing said the facility where its investigator was employed is Atlantic Farm, on Virginia's Eastern Shore in Accomack County.
A phone number for Atlantic Farm could not be found in public records, but a person linked with Atlantic Farm in public records provided a number for the business that matched a number also provided by Compassion Over Killing. A man who answered the phone at that number Tuesday said the number was incorrect.
Worth Sparkman, a Tyson spokesman, said the company worked with the poultry facility for less than a year and a half.
Compassion Over Killing sends its undercover investigators to meat-processing plants to get jobs, then films conditions to document possible animal abuse.
In addition to the birds killed on camera, the advocacy group says other chickens in the video became morbidly obese and suffered heart attacks because they were genetically modified to be slaughtered within 45 days of birth.
"Hundreds of millions of debilitated baby birds languish in their supply chains," the video's narrator said of Tyson.
Sparkman denied the birds were genetically modified, saying in a statement, "We grow several different-sized birds and we match the breed and feed to the size of the bird so our chickens are healthy and grow at appropriate rates."
A Compassion Over Killing investigator who filmed the conditions at Atlantic Farm worked there for six weeks earlier this year. "My goal is just to improve the lives of these animals," said the investigator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. "I want them to have a future free of cruelty."
This is not the first time Compassion Over Killing has filmed mistreatment of animals at Tyson-affiliated farms in Virginia.
In 2016, the group released video of Tyson employees who appeared to throw, punch and kick chickens at four Virginia facilities.
After the release of that video, 10 Tyson workers were convicted of charges related to animal cruelty. The Accomack County Sheriff's Office, which also operates the Eastern Shore Regional Animal Control Facility, didn't respond to a request for comment Tuesday about the group's most recent video.
Compassion Over Killing Executive Director Erica Meier said the graphic video arms consumers with knowledge about conditions inside the facility.
"Our video uncovers the horrific suffering chickens are forced to endure when Tyson thinks no one is watching, from the genetic manipulation of birds resulting in painful ailments and morbid obesity to acts of violence so extreme, they fly in the face of Virginia law," she said.
Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.