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Investigation: Baby Birds Crushed, Drowned, and Mutilated at California Chicken Hatchery

Animal Equality has released its latest undercover investigation exposing serious violations of California’s animal cruelty laws inside a major U.S. meat supplier.
December 16, 2021

Animal Equality has released a new investigation documenting shocking scenes of suffering and abuse of birds at a Foster Farms hatchery in Stanislaus County, California. This facility provides baby chickens to farms managed by Foster Farms, where they are raised and then slaughtered. Foster Farms supplies major west coast grocery chains as well as the fast food chain Chick-fil-A. The investigation exposed serious violations of California’s animal cruelty laws and showed chicks routinely being inhumanely killed or left to slowly die from injuries. 

PROLONGED SUFFERING AND DEATH: At the hatchery, video footage documented chicks left to suffer for hours after being mutilated and severely injured by machinery, before they were dumped into a chute to be ground up while still alive. Chicks who were just a few hours old were found with their bodies ripped open and internal organs exposed. Others were caught or crushed by processing equipment that moved the birds along on conveyor belts. Some chicks became trapped in hatching trays and were pulled into washers, where they were scalded and drowned in hot water. 

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CRIMINAL WELFARE VIOLATIONS: The investigation found serious criminal violations of animal cruelty laws: 

  • Newly hatched chicks were crushed or mutilated by automated processing machinery. 
  • Live chicks were found drowning in water and chemical foam on the floors underneath conveyor belts.
  • One chick was discovered alive in a hatching tray that had gone through the washing machine which uses hot, high-pressure water.  
  • Injured birds were left in trays for hours before being dumped into a chute leading to a grinder. 
  • Other birds were dumped directly into buckets filled with shells, rancid yolks, and dead birds, where they drowned.  

NO EFFECTIVE WELFARE PROGRAM: In addition to disturbing videos depicting cruelty to chicks at the hatchery, the investigation found that Foster Farms had no effective welfare programs to safeguard injured chicks from prolonged suffering. In one instance, stacks of trays housing thousands of chicks in eggs were knocked over and crushed, causing the deaths of most of the birds. The management shrugged off this incident, stating that getting replacement birds was easy. 

Animal Equality also found that hatchery machinery was operated at speeds that led to countless preventable injuries and deaths of chicks, and humane methods of euthanasia were not being used. Hatchery management failed to properly train employees in animal welfare, resulting in further injury, suffering, and prolonged death in chicks. 

FALSE HUMANE CLAIMS: Foster Farms slaughters and ships chickens to grocery stores across the west coast, including Walmart, Kroger, Costco, and Target. All of these retailers assure the public that the animals they sell are humanely treated and prevented from experiencing discomfort, pain, and injury. However, Animal Equality’s investigation revealed that this was not the case, and that chicks within Foster Farms’ supply chain were routinely subjected to pain and injury.    

WHAT WE’RE SAYING: “Foster Farms’ lack of care results in the daily deaths of chicks who often suffer greatly from mutilation, drowning, or being scalded in an automated process with little welfare oversight,” said Sean Thomas, Animal Equality’s International Director of Investigations. “We are asking County District Attorney Brigit Fladager to file charges against the company for violations of the state penal code prohibiting cruelty to animals.”

CALLING FOR CRIMINAL CHARGES: Animal Equality has presented its findings to Stanislaus County District Attorney Brigit Fladager and Sheriff Jeff Dirkse. The evidence shows how Foster Farms subjects chicks to needless suffering and fails to provide timely care and attention to injuries. Animal Equality is asking for criminal charges to be filed against Foster Farms for violating California animal cruelty laws, which do not exempt animals raised for food from cruelty protections. 

HOW YOU CAN HELP: You can make a difference for chickens by sharing this investigation and leaving them off your plate. With your support, we can help these suffering birds and ensure that in the future, chickens do not have to face the same brutal fate.


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