ButterballWhen consumers think of the Butterball brand, they think turkey. But on Thursday, unappetizing images of poultry in peril emerged that might cause many Butterball buyers to ponder what really went on before their holiday turkey dinners reached their plates.

Animal rights group Mercy for Animals went undercover and caught workers at a North Carolina Butterball-affiliated turkey facility on video abusing the birds. The footage reveals that workers stomped, kicked, threw, and dragged the animals.

If that's not enough to cause you to lose your lunch, some turkeys had untreated wounds and injuries such as open sores, infections, rotting eyes, and broken bones.

Butterball abuseMercy for Animals presented the footage and filed a formal legal complaint with local law enforcement, resulting in a warrant and raid on the facility Thursday morning.

In response, Butterball said it's working with Hoke County officials regarding the allegations, and that it has "zero tolerance" for cruelty to its birds. It also said it's conducting its own investigation, both internally and through third-party audits.

Butterball claims it trains employees to use humane treatment and has a company policy in place requiring workers to report any abuse they witness. Obviously, though, something went terribly wrong at Butterball; purported company policy and the images caught on video are at odds.

Supply and Demand (for Better Animal Treatment)

Major companies like Butterball need to be on the ball when it comes to eradicating such behavior. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of animal welfare in various supply chains.

In November, The Humane Society of the United States filed a complaint against Smithfield Foods (SFD) regarding its continued use of gestation crates for sows. The Humane Society saw McDonald's (MCD) as guilty by association; Smithfield is a major supplier of the fast-food giant's pork.

Smithfield has since recommitted to its timeline to phase out the inhumane crates by 2017, a vow it had previously put off two years ago.

McDonald's must really be getting the picture, because later in November, it ditched egg supplier Sparboe after Mercy for Animals caught video footage of that farm's ugly treatment of birds.

Good Treatment, Better Business

If you think it's frivolous for companies like Butterball and McDonald's to care, think again. It's economics.

Studies have shown that aggregate meat demand has decreased as consumers have become more aware of animal welfare issues in factory farming.

For example, last year, researchers Glynn Tonsor and Nicole Olynk, agricultural economists at Kansas State University and Purdue University, released a study showing that without the increase in animal welfare media coverage from 1999 through 2008, pork and poultry demand would have been 2.7% and 5% higher, respectively.

An agribusiness survey has even shown consumers' increasing distaste regarding inhumane treatment at factory farms. More than 40% of those surveyed stated that the U.S. is "on the wrong track" in terms of food production, and 20% are uncomfortable with the soundness of the food supply here in the U.S.

Making Moral Progress

Gandhi once said, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." More American consumers seem to realize that there's no good reason why animals should be abused and tortured before they make their way to Americans' plates.

Surely American companies can innovate to cut inhumane treatment from their operations and supply chains. They'll have to, as more and more consumers are asking for that kind of moral progress.

Motley Fool analyst Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of McDonald's.

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I think most of these companies are abusive to the animals..they don't value the fact that these animals are living things and they feel pain..I am a vegetarian and do not eat any animals or animal products..I do not tell others what to do, but when you read things like this, it makes you wonder how we can support this cruelty. I think if a company is so inhumane, everyone needs to stop purchasing from them..that is the only thing they understand..and then, go out and adopt a rescue dog..or cat..they need love and homes too..

January 04 2012 at 1:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jlm9's comment

And how do you feel about the incarceration of human beings? Do you plan on adopting an ex-con when they are released from prison?

January 05 2012 at 6:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Believe it or not, animals in this country are more important than humans and a person who kills an animal get more time and attention than the person who kills another human.

January 04 2012 at 12:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to juancarlos6928's comment

And where do you get your information from? I personally think that animals have no voice of their own so we need to advocate for them..but I also don't think people get worse punishments for harming animals then people..so lets get our facts straight. I wouldn't mind if they did, but they don't.

January 04 2012 at 1:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It is easy to fool people and the Huff Post did it again, I do not condone animal cruelity but those were the sick birds being culled from the healthy ones. The dead ones died from diseases. They eventually grind up these birds for fertilizer. They were not killing birds for preparation. Many animal rights activists are nut cases and think every turkey should have a home in suburbia subsidized by tax dollars. The same activists treat their fellow humans like dirt

January 04 2012 at 10:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to SPQR's comment

So, why were the birds sick? Why were they with other animals? Why were they being abused even if sick? Oh come on, the people that were doing this were being cruel and have no heart..sorry..I don't believe for one minute these are nice people doing their job..they are mean, cruel and abusive to animals and they obviously have no feeling towards them..shame on them..there but for the grace of G-d go I..

January 04 2012 at 1:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jlm9's comment

These people are processing hundreds and thousands of animals to be butchered for food. These animals are not pets. While I agree the people need not be cruel, I would not expect them to develop deep feelings of attachments to the animals. Get off of your high horse...

January 05 2012 at 6:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
you knucklehead

This won't stop me from eating meat, but it sure will jade my opinion enough of Butterball, that I won't soon be purchasing any of their products. These birds are raised to harvest, there can be no possible reason to make their short lives a living hell. Thank God I have the option to buy from local farmers.

January 04 2012 at 8:51 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Matt Dougherty

Look all they have to do is Make sure the BALLS are always BUTTERED ! What's so hard about that ? Just hire a few Gay blades to do the job !!!!!

January 04 2012 at 8:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"God gave us dominion over the animals and made us the instruments of His consciousness. Thus when we consciously care for animals we are fulfilling our role as God on earth." E. Gordon

First do no harm.

January 04 2012 at 8:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bobo's Here

Butterball goes on the same list as Tyson .NEVER BUY THEIR PRODUCTS AGAIN.....I will not tolerate animal OR people abuse of any kind, physical or verbal............and these 2 companys seem to care more about making money than any thing else..........you kick a dog, he bites you, he bites you, you kick him again , he lays there injured, and who does he call for help 911??.......NO he lays there in pain or dies......come on people, what is happening to the human race, and NO I AM NOT A MEMBER OF PETA....just a human being with a heart and a conscience.

January 04 2012 at 8:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is an abomination of mankind and its disposable market mindset. I have switched to non animal substitutes and they taste better than the real thing. I am not going to be responsible for the deaths of breathing, feeling thinking beings. I am also healthier than my meat eating counterparts. Let the inane ridiculous comments begin, ie. yes, I am a peta member, people eating tasty animals, that saying went out with the cavemen, but these idiots think they are so funny. Get a life!

January 04 2012 at 7:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to etinamax's comment
Matt Dougherty

You will never see a cat or dog in China town !

January 04 2012 at 8:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
hi marlene

It's not just about animal cruelty, which I am against, but none of this makes the idea of eating turkey or any other animal appealing, because of the risk of mucus and pus in milk, antibiotics and steroids in meat. I love chicken, but I just want to know what I'm buying isn't promoting this sadistic cruelty by potential serial killers of the future.

January 04 2012 at 6:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
hi marlene

Read both Peter Singer and others on issues like this, and also Fast Food Nation has some material in both the film and the book.

January 04 2012 at 6:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply