Hoke County sheriff's detectives and animal welfare investigators have spent the day looking for evidence that turkeys were tortured and mistreated at a Butterball facility in Shannon, about 90 miles south of Raleigh.
The investigators arrived at the plant at 8 a.m. this morning in response to allegations by an animal rights group that Butterball employees beat, kicked, threw and stomped the birds.
Garner-based Butterball, the nation's largest producer of turkey products, said it does not tolerate cruelty to animals and is cooperating with the investigation.
Hoke County law enforcement officials got a search warrant last night to investigate Butterball after Mercy For Animals, a Chicago group, supplied the county's District Attorney with three weeks of undercover film footage allegedly showing maimed and bloodied turkeys suffering at the facility.
The court order gives the sheriff's office the right to euthanize mistreated turkeys if necessary. As of this afternoon, no birds had been euthanized.
The Butterball facility has two turkey houses, each containing about 1,000 birds. Investigators expect to remain on site "well into the night," said Capt. John Kivett of the Hoke County Sheriff's Office.
"We're looking for any animal that has been maltreated or injured that would substantiate any abuse or neglect," Kivett said.
He said a subsequent investigation would determine if any criminal charges are warranted against Butterball employees or managers.
Mercy For Animals obtained the film footage from an investigator who worked at the plant for three weeks. The group turned the information over to the county DA's office and the prosecutors decided there was sufficient concern to investigate further, Kivett said.
In addition to the six detectives, the investigation includes two veterinarians and two animal welfare experts.
The website ButterballAbuse.com posted the undercover video below to their site, along with the organization's plea for assistance. WARNING: Some viewers may find the content graphic or unsuitable for children.