Police are investigating West Coast poultry producer Foster Farms after the release of a video showing chickens being tormented and handled violently by the company's employees.
The undercover video was shot in the company's slaughterhouse in Fresno, California by Mercy for Animals, a Los Angeles-based animal rights group that opposes meat consumption.
In the video, chickens are thrown upside down and slammed into metal shackles. Employees punch live chickens and pull out fistfuls of feathers. The video also shows the chickens getting their throats sliced by automatic blades. The chickens that are hung incorrectly often miss the blades and are processed by the machinery alive and conscious, Mercy for Animals claims.
Foster Farms has been issued a certificate from the American Humane Association for its supposedly humane treatment of animals. The company claims it has launched its own investigation, and issued a statement saying the events in the video do "not reflect the company's culture and policies."
"The behavior of the individuals in this video is inappropriate and counter to our stringent animal welfare standards, procedures and policies," the statement read. "We believe raising chickens humanely is simply the right thing to do, and we take our commitment to humane values very seriously."
The company also said that its employees — about 12,000 in total — are regularly trained in how to handle chickens properly and added that it disciplines staff who do not adhere to company standards.
But Mercy for Animals alleges that the footage is indicative of company-wide attitudes toward animals. Mercy's director of investigations, Matt Rice, also claims that Foster Farms previously failed to properly investigate after an undercover employee reported animal abuse in the past.
Rice called on the American Humane Association to ban the use of automatic blades and scalding tanks, and be more rigorous in its enforcement of standards within the poultry industry. According to figures from the Department of Agriculture, poultry farms across the industry mostly observed requirements and standards relating to chicken slaughter. Only 0.008 percent of animals were improperly slaughtered last year, an Agriculture Department spokeswoman said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.