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By ELIZABETH LEE
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Tyson Foods has fired several workers at chicken slaughterhouses in Cumming and in Union City, Tenn., in the wake of a federal investigation of animal cruelty charges, the company said this week.
Tyson also is stepping up management surveillance of areas where live chickens are handled and retraining workers, according to a statement from spokesman Gary Mickelson. The Springdale, Ark.-based company disciplined other workers. He declined to say how many employees had been fired.
The company is conducting an internal investigation of allegations made by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which sent an undercover investigator into the plants last fall.
The group, which promotes vegetarianism and animal welfare, notified the federal agriculture department of its concerns in mid-January, and posted video shot by its investigator online.
Both the agriculture department and Tyson said investigations are ongoing. The USDA has referred a concern about animal handling at the Union City, Tenn. plant to that state's agriculture department. The state veterinarian is reviewing the information, said Tom Womack, a spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.
There is no federal regulation governing humane handling of poultry, as there is for cattle and pork. But there are guidelines for good commercial practices for handling food animals that federal investigators are eyeing. Those would be actions that minimize excitement, discomfort or stress, says Amanda Eamich, a USDA spokeswoman.
"We did find some issues that were not considered to be good commercial practices, that fall outside our regulatory authority," Eamich said. "In one of those cases, we did refer the matter to appropriate state officials and notified plant management of our concern. The expectation in every case is that they be immediately addressed."
Tyson's investigation found that some activities shown in the PETA video warranted corrective action, while others were misrepresented because the birds had already been stunned and were unconscious, Mickelson said.
The video appeared to show workers throwing chickens and urinating on the plant floor, among other activities. Mickelson said Tyson's check found no evidence of any food safety concerns.
PETA is calling for Tyson and KFC, which uses Tyson as a supplier, to hire investigators to prevent incidents.
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