As the White House announced its annual turkey pardoning for the day before Thanksgiving, an animal rights group claimed that the Pennsylvania farm that supplies turkeys to the first family keeps its birds in densely crowded, inhumane conditions.
The advocacy group, Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), said it filmed animals at Jaindl Turkey Farms in Orefield, Pa., over several months beginning in June. In video and images released by the group, the animals appear to struggle to move and fight one another for space. Some appear sick or injured, and some of the birds have mutilated beaks.
“Some were so deformed that they could no longer eat,” text in the video reads.
David Jaindl, the owner and president of Jaindl Farms, called the DxE video a “gross inaccuracy.”
DxE is a frequent critic of the meat industry, particularly of what it says is a bogus animal-welfare ratings system at Whole Foods Market.
“The President has been duped by Jaindl Farms into promoting violence against animals,” DxE investigator Tiffany Walker said in a statement. “We’re asking him to look at our findings and denounce, rather than promote, Jaindl and other animal-abusing enterprises.”
Jaindl said the group filmed a “recovery barn” for sick turkeys and said animals intended for sale to Whole Foods are kept elsewhere at the 219-barn facility.
“These individuals illegally trespassed and staged what you saw in that video in many different instances, and I am furious,” he told The Washington Post.
Gregory Hostetter, Pennsylvania’s deputy secretary for animal health and food safety, visited Jaindl’s facility this week and praised the operation.
“They actually have some of the best animal-husbandry practices,” he said of the farm.
Jaindl also said that the barn appeared overcrowded because turkeys were moving toward the trespassers’ lights.
“Anybody who knows the first thing about poultry knows you can’t do that,” he said.
The White House declined to comment, referring questions to the National Turkey Federation. The federation provides the live birds pardoned by the president each year, and each year it chooses a different supplier.
Jaindl says on its website that it provides the turkeys the first family eats, not the ones a president pardons. The company says it “has sent two Grand Champion turkeys to the White House each Thanksgiving” and that one of its brands “has been selected by the National Turkey Federation to supply the turkey that graces the holiday table at the White House each Thanksgiving” since 1962.
However, Jaindl turkeys have not been eaten in the Obama White House. In 2014, The Post reported that Obama had donated the turkeys to charity each year during his administration.
“I will bring a couple less fortunate turkeys to a great organization that works to help out our neighbors here in D.C. who need it most,” Obama said in 2013. “And I want to thank Jaindl’s Turkey Farm in Orefield, Pennsylvania, for donating those dressed birds for the fifth year in a row.”
Wayne Hsiung, an organizer for DxE, claimed that the group visited 80 percent of the barns on site and found similar conditions. The idea that animals in one barn were better cared for, he said, defied logic.
“If you believe that story, you must believe in Santa Claus,” Hsiung said.
A letter from Jaindl’s legal counsel sent to DxE accused the group of “ecoterrorism” and said the video’s “editing/captioning grossly misrepresents what was captured.”
“If ever you could have chosen the wrong operator as an example of poor treatment of turkeys, you certainly have done so in this instance,” read the letter from Joseph A. Zator II. “It is your organization that has harmed turkeys. Sneaking into a hospital barn in the middle of the night, when such activity causes the birds to crowd and stampede, thereby injuring many.”
Whole Foods said the turkeys in the video are not the ones it buys from Jaindl.
“Whole Foods Market has the highest animal welfare standards in the industry, and we take any allegations of mistreatment of animals by a supplier very seriously,” Robin Kelly, a spokeswoman for the company, said in a statement.