Animal-rights activists are criticizing Salisbury-based Perdue Farms after an advocacy group released a video Thursday showing a worker at a North Carolina farm under contract with the poultry giant squeezing a chicken under his boot and throwing another bird against a wall.
The video prompted North Carolina authorities to charge the man with four felony counts of animal cruelty.
Perdue officials called the actions caught on tape "unacceptable" and said the company works continuously to ensure the poultry it sells comes from farms that raise the birds in "a healthy environment."
Mercy for Animals, a Los Angeles-based animal protection group, said it captured the video during an undercover investigation. In addition to the violence, the footage shows birds so large they cannot support their own weight.
Matt Rice, the organization's director of investigations, said the group is pressing Perdue to put "meaningful animal welfare policies" in place. But he added the problems go beyond farms associated with Perdue.
"This type of cruelty runs rampant in the animal agriculture industry," Rice said. "This isn't a case of a single factory farm failing to meet industry standards."
Julie DeYoung, a spokeswoman for Perdue, said the company has "extensive" policies in place requiring the birds "are raised in a way that's consistent with our values."
The conditions in the video did not meet the standards, she said. The large birds shown struggling to stand should have been euthanized before reaching that point, she said.
Last year, Perdue settled a pair of class-action lawsuits in which the Humane Society of the United States criticized a "humanely raised" label on its Harvestland brand of chicken. The company agreed to remove the claim from the packaging.
Perdue this year created a new executive position — chief animal welfare officer and farm family advocate — that company officials say is devoted to ensuring the poultry it sells is raised fairly.
Perdue employs 1,600 people in Maryland and 19,000 companywide. Farms such as the one investigated in North Carolina are not owned by Perdue but hold contracts to sell the company their poultry.