Each day he worked at the Perdue slaughter plant in Showell, Maryland, COK’s undercover investigator compiled daily log notes.
Daily Investigation Log
Perdue Slaughter Plant, Showell, Md.
Thursday, September 16, 2004
My first day working at the Showell, Maryland Perdue plant ran from 7:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. with a lunch break. The entire day was spent filling out forms, watching videos, and listening to presentations. The videos focused solely on worker safety and food contamination, not once instructing new employees as to the proper way to handle the animals. In fact, of the hours of videos shown, there was only about three seconds of footage of live animals, included in a montage of different ways workers might have to engage in lifting activity at various stations at a Perdue plant. Similarly, the presentations did not mention animal welfare, animal handling, or animal treatment at all.
Friday, September 17, 2004
At the start of my first day working in the live hang room, I was given the proper attire and then taken into the hanging room by the line leader. As soon as I entered the room, the smell of chicken waste hit me so hard I struggled to keep myself from vomiting. The line leader took me to my position on the line and gave me one sentence of instruction: “Pick up the chickens upside-down and put their legs in the shackle.” With that, he walked away and I was on my own.
After only 30 minutes of working on the line, two things stood out more than anything else: how the animals were treated and how they reacted.
Speed seemed to be the dominating objective, since our workday ended once a quota was achieved, so workers grabbed the chickens as quickly—and thereby as roughly—as possible from the conveyer belt, often picking them up by one wing, one leg, or their necks. They often forced the chickens so hard into the shackles I was amazed the birds’ legs weren’t ripped off. Although birds are supposed to be hung upside-down by both of their legs in the metal shackles, sometimes chickens dangled by just one leg.
Nearly every chicken responded with screams and violent physical reactions from the moment they were grabbed by workers and as they went through the line. The screaming of the birds and the frenzied flapping of their wings were so loud that you had to yell to the worker next to you, who was standing less than two feet away, just so he could hear you.
Workers don’t treat the animals aggressively only while they’re hanging them: I saw an employee kick a chicken off the floor fan and routinely saw chickens being thrown around the room. Some birds manage to jump from the conveyer belt onto the floor before they can be shackled, so workers would grab them and throw them back towards the belt. A couple of times, the chickens were thrown so hard that the entire line would shake from the force of their bodies hitting the shackles.
All the chickens I saw had scalding and feather-loss on their stomachs and chests, presumably ammonia burns from living in their own waste while in the “grow-out” facility.
Monday, September 20, 2004
Today, there were many birds who were shackled by just one leg. The line moves so fast and there is so much pressure for workers to keep up the speed that making sure chickens are hung by both legs is not always possible.
At one point, so many chickens had piled up on top of each other at one end of the conveyer belt that the line backed up. The worker on that end quickly grabbed the chickens and threw them back down the line to clear the conveyer entrance of birds. One of the birds was thrown right past my face, nearly hitting me. Neither the supervisor nor any of the other workers said anything to the employee throwing the chickens. All I heard from one worker was, “Let’s go! Hurry up!”
I tried to hang the birds as gently as possible, so I was slower than my co-workers. The supervisor saw that I wasn’t as fast as the others so he moved me to the slower line where the biggest birds, called “roasters,” were shackled. It was on this line that I saw some chickens being shackled with their heads caught between their legs and the shackle. Since they weren’t hanging upside down, their necks would completely miss the slicing blade, so they’d presumably go into the scalding tanks while fully conscious. Even more so than on the faster line, the conveyer belt on the “roaster” line consistently clogged with chickens piled on top of each other, often three birds deep.
While one of the workers was talking about football, he “spiked” a chicken onto the conveyer belt, pretending he had scored a touchdown. Unfortunately, the tape in the camera had already run out by this point, but I know I’ll never forget that image in my mind.
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Today I saw about 50 birds being dumped from the transport crates onto the conveyer belt, a distance of approximately eight feet. The crate tipped them all at once, so they fell on top of each other. The screaming was intense during the whole process. I looked onto the conveyer belt and could clearly see chickens with broken legs and wings, limbs sticking out in unnatural angles.
I again saw chickens who had jumped off the conveyer being kicked and thrown back onto the belt. As well, dead birds could be seen lying around the hanging room floor.
Wednesday, September 22, 2004
During my break, I walked outside to check out the trucks waiting to dump the chickens onto the conveyer belt. The chickens were literally packed wing to wing and the crates were so small that the birds couldn’t even stand erect. Scattered throughout the trucking area were dying birds who must have fallen off the truck during the unloading process. These birds were clearly injured, but none of the workers paid any attention to them. No efforts were made the end their suffering, and they were left to presumably die of dehydration or from their injuries.
During lunch, I went back into the hanging room while my co-workers were eating in the cafeteria. The belt was filled, almost overloaded, with birds, many injured and dying, and others already dead. Chickens were lying on top of each other so the ones at the bottom of the piles had to struggle against the weight of so many others just to stick their heads up to breathe.
Thursday, September 23, 2004
The throwing of birds started almost immediately today as birds kept falling off the belt onto the floor. The workers, obviously frustrated, quickly grabbed the chickens from the ground and aggressively threw them back onto the belt.
I’m still shocked that no one was ever reprimanded for this behavior, even though a supervisor was present in the hanging room every day I’ve been here so far.
Again, I checked out the status of the conveyer belt during my lunch break, and even more chickens were piled on top of each other than yesterday. Many of them managed to escape the pile by jumping onto the floor.
I also walked outside during lunch and saw more than 20 birds scattered around the plant. Most were so injured that they could only flap their wings occasionally but some could limp around. I looked inside the dumpsters, which are located outside the entrance of the hanging room, and they were filled half-way up with dead chickens. After staring into the dumpster for a few moments, I saw that two of the bodies were moving—there were live birds left to die amidst dead chickens.
Friday, September 24, 2004
Today, I was able to check out the kill floor. Properly shackled birds hang by their legs so their necks can be sliced open by the rotating blade. For those whose necks are not cut, a kill floor operator is supposed to kill them manually. Despite this, I saw some chickens who had completely missed the throat-cutting blade and yet ignored by the worker, so they would enter the scalding tank while fully conscious. Many chickens who did get their necks cut flapped their wings intensely and shook violently as they bled to death.
By the end of the day, I realized that throwing and kicking birds are normal occurrences. I’ve worked now for more than one week at Perdue and have never seen or heard about anyone being reprimanded for kicking or throwing the birds.
Monday, September 27, 2004
Today, a worker walked the length of the live hang room floor, picking up chickens and throwing them against the shackles. As the birds slammed against the shackles, the line shook so hard that some other birds already on the conveyer belt would be knocked off onto the floor. Again, no one said anything about the aggressive behavior, even though there were more birds thrown today than any other day so far.
I also saw more birds improperly shackled. Because of the speed of the line, no one has time to hang each and every bird correctly or re-hang those birds shackled incorrectly.
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
More of the same in terms of the regularity of birds being thrown around. At one point, the shackle line was stopped. While we waited for it to start up again, one worker swung live chickens above his head and threw them against the shackles as the co-workers stood back and laughed.
I shackled birds much slower today in order to try to get more of the day-in, day-out occurrences on tape, but kept getting yelled at by other workers to speed it up. I also noticed that our line leader seemed generally more hostile toward the birds today, even yelling profanities at them when he threw them.
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
There were so many dead birds on the floor of the hanging room that it was difficult to take a step without stepping on one.
During one break, a worker repeatedly slapped a chicken in the face until the line started again. Unfortunately, my camera’s tape had ended so I wasn’t able to film him.
Thursday, September 30, 2004
Not surprisingly, today was also filled with workers throwing and kicking birds, shackling them improperly, and basically ignoring those who were injured. I say “basically” because some would seemingly purposefully step on the ones lying on the ground, unable to move. For the past two weeks, there hasn’t been one day when workers didn’t throw or kick chickens, nor has there been one time when anyone has ever been reprimanded for treating the birds so cruelly.
Friday, October 1, 2004
As usual, there were dozens of dying and injured birds piled on top of each other on the conveyer belt during lunch break. There were two birds in particular who were especially noticeable. They both were on their backs, piled in with other birds, with their legs spread out and barely breathing. After the lunch, those birds were hung, even though they were clearly near death. No individualized attention was ever given to an animal in need during my time at the plant.