Butterfield slaughterhouse under fire for alleged hen cruelty

A Butterfield, Minn. business is under fire for the way it slaughters its hens, and dramatic video from the Humane Society about the process is meant to disturb the viewer, and it may do just that.


A hen, the narrator calls "Ann," is drowned in scalding water because the killing machine failed to cut her neck.

The Humane Society of the United States says that happened 45 times in just 30 minutes, and is calling these hens "red birds" in a complaint sent to the sheriff and U.S. Department of Agriculture. The complaint goes on to reference video shot by a Humane Society undercover investigators from September to December 2014, alleging "hens trapped by their heads in the neck cutting machine," "birds thrown against the wall," tossed in the trash," and more.

"Animals inside this slaughter plant are being tormented in sickening ways. They're being dumped inside scalding hot tanks of hot water while still alive and fully conscious," Paul Shapiro told Fox 9 over the phone.

The Humane Society wants the state and feds to take action, but an attorney for Butterfield Foods, the hen slaughterhouse where the video takes place, says no hens were regularly drowned in scalding water and points to a USDA report from last year that says "all birds" entering the scald tub "had stopped breathing" and had "no unusual wing or body movements." The attorney says just because the hens are moving does not mean they're alive.

"They use the word alive. That word does not apply. An animal is not alive because it moves, that is especially a chicken," attorney Terry Fruth said.

Butterfield's attorney said eight inspectors are at the plant, and put any blame for a live hen getting through is on the person taking video.

"The guy who took the pictures by the way was the guy assigned to the back-up protection. He left his position and started taking pictures. It's possible that some live birds he was supposed to kill didn't get through if he wasn't at his station," Fruth added.

Animal law attorney Barbara Gislason says generally, animal laws are getting tougher, but that the law may be the least of Butterfield Food's worries.

"I think there has been a progression of animal laws in the country, and the expectation by the public on what they think cruelty is," she said. "There's a saying that ‘seeing is believing,' and the kind of footage that the HSUS has got, it's disturbing footage, so from the public image standpoint, this kind of thing is hard to explain."

When asked about the fact that the video simply looks bad, Butterfield's attorney said his client is a small business and needs the industry to lead on making slaughtering more humane, which is costly.

The county attorney said it will take him about a month to decide whether to file any state cruelty to animal charges. The humane society is calling for federal action under the Poultry Products Inspection Act, and advocating for birds to be included in the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Right now, hens are excluded.

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