Authorities are now probing whether an official at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture tipped off a Butterball turkey farm at the center of an animal abuse investigation. ABC News reports that officials suspect that the information leak came from a veterinarian at the agency charged with overseeing the health of Butterball’s animals.
Last month Mercy for Animals alerted officials to possible animal abuse after releasing a hidden video filmed at the North Carolina Butterball turkey farm. The group accused workers of committing what the group called “acts of violence and severe neglect.”
Hoke County Sheriff’s Department raided the farm on Dec. 28, where officials inspected 2,800 turkeys, seizing 28 and euthanized four.
The investigation is ongoing and no criminal charges have been filed.
Phone records show calls between Butterball and the state’s Department of Agriculture, which raises questions about the relationship between the turkey producer and the regularity agency expected to oversee it.
According to a search warrant for the phone records, the agency was contacted by a prosecutor in the Hoke County District Attorney’s office prior to the December raid. The prosecutor inquired if the office wanted to assist with the inspection of the turkeys during the action.
The prosecutor alleged in a search warrant that conversations about the pending raid were intended to be treated as confidential.
Instead, investigators charge that the Director of Animal Health Programs contacted a veterinarian employed by Butterball. Although initially denying knowledge of the raid, the director admitted of calling the Butterball veterinarian before the raid and “informed him she had heard there was an investigation into a Butterball farm in Hoke County.”
Nathan Runkle, executive director for Mercy for Animals, voiced concern about the latest development.
“It is deeply troubling,” Runkle, told ABC News. “that a governmental agency that is entrusted with monitoring and overseeing agriculture and food production is so corrupt that it’s in bed with the very corporate interests that were documented abusing and neglecting animals. The fox apparently is guarding the henhouse.”
The N.C. Department of Agriculture released a statement, saying the agency was, “cooperating with law enforcement agencies in Hoke County in their investigation of whether any of our employees may have inappropriately shared information about an animal cruelty investigation at a turkey farm. Once the investigation is complete, we will take appropriate action based on the facts.”