Minnesota Law Enforcement Urged to Investigate Butterfield, Jennie-O for Animal Cruelty

Turkeys lie in cages on a transport truck
Photo by Valmedia

Washington, DC—Today, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) sent letters to two county sheriffs in Minnesota, urging them to investigate and consider filing charges against Butterfield Foods, headquartered in Butterfield, Minnesota, and a Jennie-O Turkey Store facility in Melrose for violating the state’s animal cruelty law.

AWI contacted county sheriffs Jared Bergeman of Watonwan County (where Butterfield is based) and Steve Soyka of Stearns County (home to the Jennie-O facility). The letters ask the top law enforcement officers to hold both companies and individual employees accountable for multiple instances of severe neglect while birds were being transported and as they awaited slaughter.

Last month, AWI raised the same serious issues with county prosecutors—Stephen Lindee of Watonwan and Janelle P. Kendall of Stearns—urging them to intervene. To date, neither prosecutor’s office has responded to AWI directly. 

According to US Department of Agriculture inspection records obtained by AWI, Butterfield appears to have violated state law at least five times over the last four years. Most recently, on June 9, more than 2,500 birds died after being abandoned overnight in a trailer with no fans or proper ventilation on a day when temperatures exceeded 90 degrees. Minnesota’s cruelty statute expressly prohibits depriving any animal of necessary food, water, and shelter. It is also unlawful to abandon any animal or to keep any animal in an enclosure without fresh air.

Butterfield similarly escaped accountability after allowing more than 9,500 birds to suffer and die from heat exposure in August of last year. In February 2020, Butterfield permitted more than 9,000 hens to freeze to death in trailers in subzero temperatures; some hens were discovered frozen solid and stuck to their cages. At the time, county attorney Lindee said there was insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges.

At Jennie-O in Melrose, hundreds of turkeys died in six incidents from April to June of this year after they were left sweltering in direct sun—as temperatures rose into the 90s in some cases—with no fans or misters to keep the animals cool.

Headquartered in Willmar, Minnesota, Jennie-O is a subsidiary of Hormel Foods. Its facilities have a history of egregious inhumane treatment of birds, documented by USDA inspectors. A Jennie-O establishment in Faribault, Minnesota, ranked among the worst poultry slaughter plants in the country, according to a recent AWI analysis, having received dozens of reprimands from the USDA from 2017 to 2019 for malfunctioning stunning equipment that grossly mutilated turkeys, among other incidents.

“While police will rescue dogs trapped in hot cars, farm animals destined for slaughter suffer excruciating deaths due to major enforcement gaps,” said Erin Sutherland, staff attorney for AWI’s farm animal program. “Animal cruelty must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, whether it is perpetrated by an individual or a multimillion-dollar corporation.”

More than 9 billion chickens and turkeys are slaughtered in the United States every year. The USDA ostensibly regulates the slaughter, sanitation, and inspection practices at poultry processing facilities, yet the department does not regulate the treatment of poultry during transport or as they wait to be unloaded from transport trailers.

The USDA acknowledges the authority of state officials in the humane treatment of birds at federal slaughterhouses, noting that some egregious incidents may violate a state’s animal cruelty code. Under Minnesota’s animal cruelty code, the treatment of animals while being transported and awaiting slaughter falls under local jurisdiction.

Media Contact Information

Marjorie Fishman, Animal Welfare Institute
[email protected], (202) 446-2128

The Animal Welfare Institute (awionline.org) is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. Follow us on FacebookTwitterand Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.