By Michael Sainato and Chelsea Skojec

On November 20, animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) released findings from a 9 month investigation into Norbest LLC, one of the United States’ largest turkey suppliers. Activists entered the Norbest facility, where they found turkeys packed in cramped, filthy, industrial sheds. Records obtained by the group found that turkeys in the facility were contracting hepatitis, and that penicillin was distributed to the turkey populations through water.

A video from the investigation revealed intensive confinement of turkeys in Norbest’s facilities. Cannibalism was documented among the turkeys, many struggling with open wounds, tumors, cysts, and other injuries sustained from the living conditions. Dead birds littered the 14 industrial barns in Utah where the group conducted their investigation. The turkeys’ claws and beaks were burned off, a standard industry practice to prohibit the turkeys from clawing and pecking one another to death when they are packed by the thousands in tight-space living conditions.

“I think this is a lesson we learned from human history over the past 10,000 years since the beginning of human civilization; unaccountable institutional power is dangerous,” said co-founder of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), Wayne Hsiang, in an interview with the Real News. “What is happening in our food system is absolutely unaccountable power that is being abused. It’s abused with respect to animals. It’s abused with respect to farm workers. It’s abused with respect to the human population that’s consuming these products. It’s time for us to create some accountability in the system”

Direct Action’s findings dispute claims on Norbest’s website that the company “does not use, nor does our drug policy permit, the use of ractopamine, nitarsone, or the routine use of medically important antibiotics” and that “Norbest turkey production practices are humane, with the health and comfort of the birds of paramount importance.” The company produces 5 million turkeys annually from 40 Utah farmers. The turkeys are advertised as “free range,” “antibiotic-free,” “ranch raised” and “mountain grown.” Among the large corporations Norbest supplies is Target, though the company has an animal welfare and antibiotic free policy.

Norbest President and CEO Matt Cook attributed the investigation’s findings to one farmer who had been previously warned by the company, and reaffirmed the company’s animal welfare policy,  announcing they will temporarily suspend operations at one of the Utah farms where Direct Action conducted a rescue action.

“It seemed like they were trying to make the individual farmer out to be a bit of a scapegoat. We’ve investigated lots and lots of farms, and the conditions that we saw at this facility, as horrific as they were, are honestly pretty typical industry standard,” said Paul Darwin Picklesimer, a Direct Action Everywhere activist, in an interview with Real News. “That area is just covered with other Norbest farms that all have the same basic types of buildings. Certainly, none of them look anything like Norbest’s logo that has the image that says ‘mountain-grown’ and ‘pristine high mountain valleys’ and shows mountains and a little stream and a tree and a turkey in the sunshine. You don’t see that anywhere. The landscape is certainly like that. It’s a beautiful piece of land in Utah, beautiful area, but the turkeys would never know it. They’re all living in metal buildings that are essentially factory farms.”

Norbest did not respond to The Real News’ request for comment.

Direct Action is pushing to raise awareness of the company’s consumer fraud practices and similar abuses throughout the industry by working toward introducing ‘right to know’ legislation to counter ag-gag laws. “We have a right to know what we’re paying for and what we’re putting into our bodies,” Hsiang said. “We’re quite confident that once we start having a genuine dialogue about what’s actually happening behind those closed doors, more and more people will jump on board the animal rights movement.”

They claim that ag-gag laws in Utah and other states around the country have prevented the filming of industrial animal agriculture facilities to expose inhumane and illegal practices. On November 18, the Salt Lake City Tribune reported the state of Utah agreed to pay animal welfare groups $349,000 to cover attorney fees over a lawsuit against the state’s ag-gag laws, after a judge declared Utah’s ag-gag law as unconstitutional in July 2017. The ruling was hailed as a major victory for animal rights groups who have faced legal obstructions in exposing the abuses perpetrated by the animal agriculture industry.

Animal rights organizations have focused on highlighting these harmful industry practices to elicit change and grow a demand for reform from corporations that have been permitted to conduct their operations in secrecy from the public.

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