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HSUS makes allegations of abuses, cruelty at Willmar Poultry hatchery, WPC responds

WILLMAR, Minn. - An undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States has made allegations of what the organization describes as routine abuses and cruelty involving newly hatched turkey chicks at Willmar Poultry.

The HSUS released its report and findings today.

Willmar Poultry, which is based in Willmar, was targeted because "it's the largest turkey hatchery in the nation," said Paul Shapiro, a spokesperson with the Humane Society of the United States.

"We've done several investigations at factory farms and slaughter plants but this is our first investigation at a turkey hatchery," he said.

An HSUS undercover investigator worked at Willmar Poultry for 11 days in October, using a hidden camera to document how baby turkeys were handled.

Among the findings:

- Sick, deformed, injured and dying birds, as well as "leftovers," were routinely disposed of by being thrown live into a grinder.

- Sick and injured birds were thrown into boxes or left on the floor all day until being killed.

- Chicks were debeaked and had their back toes amputated without painkiller.

In a statement issued this afternoon, Richard VanderSpek, president and chief operating officer of Willmar Poultry Co., said the company is committed to meeting or exceeding industry standards for how it treats its turkeys.

"The number one priority for our turkey industry is to provide the safest, highest quality products possible," he said. "Therefore, it is essential for the industry to ensure the well-being of the turkeys it raises."

VanderSpek said employees receive training on animal welfare practices and policies and can be disciplined if they violate policy.

He said the undercover video by the HSUS appears to identify actions by some employees that are against the company's policies. "We condemn any mistreatment of the animals in our care and will take swift action to investigate and address these issues," he said.

In his statement, VanderSpek said the company also will review its policies, procedures, employee training and site monitoring to help ensure employees understand and follow proper policies and procedures for animal welfare.

Shapiro said the goal of the HSUS is to establish more humane practices within the hatchery industry. "Most people don't want animals to be treated cruelly," he said.

There are currently no federal laws governing the humane treatment of baby turkeys.

Willmar Poultry Company hatches 30 million poults each year and is a major U.S. supplier of turkeys destined for American grocery stores.

The West Central Tribune in Willmar, Minn., is owned by Forum Communications Co.