Bell and Evans, a high-end chicken producer with a plant in Lebanon County, is being accused by a Washington, DC-based vegetarian group of inhumane treatment of its baby birds.
Compassion Over Killing released an undercover video shot by a planted employee at the Bell and Evans hatchery in Mifflin County. Bell and Evans also has a facility in Fredericksburg, Lebanon County.
The video purports to show newborn chicks on a conveyor belt being sorted. Compassion Over Killing says several of the sick, injured or unfit birds are tossed alive down a drain.
"While still fully conscious they're ground up alive," said Erica Meier, Executive Director of Compassion Over Killing. "It's a machine that works much like a blender."
Meier and her group hope the video will shock consumers into rejecting meat altogether because of its inherent mistreatment of animals.
The video may be shocking to Bell and Evans consumers, many of whom pay more for Bell and Evans chicken because it claims to treat animals humanely.
On its website is a seven-minute video. It is beautifully shot on a sparkling clean farm with close-ups of chicks and full-feathered healthy birds. The narrator boasts about the great care Bell and Evans takes with its chickens.
At one point the narrator says, "These peeps are going to one of our certified organic farms. But organic or not, all Bell and Evans chickens are raised humanely."
Compassion Over Killing says its video shows otherwise.
"It is not compassionate," Meier said. "It is not humane and it is not the type of cruelty we would subject our dogs and cats to."
But it's also not illegal. It is completely within industry standards.
Bell and Evans is accused of no wrongdoing and in fact has been frequently lauded for its humane treatment of animals.
A spokesman for Bell and Evans declined to go on camera and directed us to the company website, where owner Scott Sechler had a written response to the COK video.
Sechler called COK a radical activist group that planted a mole. But Sechler did not deny the authenticity of the video or suggest that it was not videotaped in his facility.
The statement was strong and direct in defending Bell and Evans reputation for humane treatment of animals. As for the killing of day-old baby birds, the statement said, "it is our first priority and responsibility to euthanize only the sick and lame birds that would otherwise suffer."
Beneath Sechler's statement is a form that Bell and Evans employees must sign. It says birds must be cautiously handled and that abusive treatment will not be tolerated and result in termination of the employee.