Willmar Poultry Company

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Willmar Poultry Company (WPC) is based in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. The company is the largest turkey producer in the United States. It produces over 45 million turkey poults (young birds) annually at its two hatcheries in Minnesota. The Willmar hatchery is the largest turkey hatchery in the industry and delivers over 600,000 poults weekly to customers. According to company's website:

"the company represents more than 60 years of industry innovation and leadership in poultry genetics, biotechnology, agriculture and engineering."[1]

Animal welfare issues

Animal cruelty investigation

In late November of 2010, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) released findings of an undercover investigation of Wilmar Poultry's turkey hatchery in Willmar, Minnesota. For 11 days in October 2010, an investigator worked inside the hatchery. The company is the largest turkey hatchery in the country. According to a company human resources worker, 50% of whole turkeys available in U.S. grocery stores were hatched at the company. Animal abuses documented included:

  • Grinding animals alive. Sick, deformed, and injured birds—as well as healthy animals who are "leftovers" not needed for buyers' orders—are killed by being thrown into grinding machines.
  • Mutilations without pain relief. Workers amputate parts of turkeys’ toes and snoods without any painkillers and jam their heads into a machine that sears parts of their beaks off with lasers—also without painkillers.
  • Abandoned birds left to suffer. Sick and injured poults are tossed into plastic bins or left abandoned and suffering on the floor through the day until they're thrown down a chute into the jaws of a grinding machine.
  • Sick and injured animals. Birds suffer from broken necks, missing eyes, and bleeding wings and legs. Injured and deformed poults are tossed into boxes and left to suffer.[2]

Video footage taken during the investigation revealed employees cutting the toes off poults before tossing them down a chute onto a bloody conveyor belt. An employee scoops up a handful of poults and tosses them into a bin. Some poults drop to the floor and are simply left there. In another portion of the video, an employee pulls a cart of injured animals over to a grinder and throws them in. According to HSUS President & CEO, Wayne Pacelle:

"Our latest investigation exposes a callous disregard for animal welfare in the turkey industry, including practices such as grinding alive sick, injured and even healthy but unwanted turkeys. It's unacceptable for workers to leave injured and nonambulatory animals to suffer on the floor for hours on end, only to then send them to their deaths in a grinder."

According to company President Richard VanderSpek, the video depicted:

"the actions of some employees that violate the company's animal welfare policies. We condemn any mistreatment of the animals in our care and will take swift action to investigate and address these issues. Willmar Poultry will also review its policies, procedures, employee training and site monitoring to help ensure that our employees understand and follow company animal welfare policies and procedures." According to Mr. VanderSpek, the company was committed to "meeting or exceeding" industry standards for animal welfare practices and policies. [3]

For a full report on the investigation, see also Cruelty Exposed at Nations Largest Turkey Hatchery.[4]

General welfare issues & recommendations

HSUS has urged the turkey industry to adopt more humane practices. These include controlled-atmosphere killing (CAK) or stunning (CAS). These systems use a mixture of gasses to painlessly kill or render birds unconscious prior to being removed from their transport crates. Such methods eliminate suffering associated with handling and shackling the birds. They also ensure that the birds are unconscious as their throats are cut or when they enter the scalding tank.[5]

Approximately 250 million turkeys suffer under cruel, substandard and unhealthy conditions in the U.S. They are bred to grow at an unnaturally rapid rate. Many birds cannot even walk normally and suffer from chronic diseases which include heart disease and skeletal disorders. The birds often endure an agonizing slaughter as well.

See also animals raised & hunted for food on birds.


Wilmar Poultry Company
1231 Lake Ave
Detroit Lakes, MN 56501-3901
United States

Phone: (218) 847-2739

Web address: http://www.willmarpoultry.com/

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