The U.S. Department of Agriculture found that a local chicken production plant was out of compliance with federal regulations after more than 2,500 chickens were found dead on the plant grounds, according to USDA reports.
A majority of the dead chickens had been left in trailers overnight May 6, 2020, at the George’s Inc. plant in Edinburg, according to the reports. Some of the dead chickens were on trailers that arrived at the plant the morning of May 7, the reports state.
When USDA inspection personnel reviewed information on May 7, 1,785 chickens and 740 heads were found "dead on arrival," the reports show.
George’s Inc. is a chicken processing company with two plants in Virginia — Harrisonburg is the other — as well as plants in Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee. The corporate offices are in Springdale, Arkansas.
The company offers whole chickens, chicken breasts, frozen chicken and more as retail products throughout the country, according to its website, georgesfarms.com. George's Inc. products are sold at Sam's Clubs in Sterling, Woodbridge and Charlottesville, according to the website.
Chickens that die from causes other than slaughter are considered to be unfit for human food and must be condemned, a spokesperson with the USDA Field Safety and Inspection Service said recently. Birds that are condemned must be disposed of by either steam treatment, incineration or chemical denaturing, USDA regulations state.
The plant disposes of carcasses in accordance to regulations, the USDA spokesperson said.
The reports were obtained by The Northern Virginia Daily through a news release from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which had obtained the reports through a public records request, according to the news release from PETA.
The USDA FSIS spokesperson confirmed that the reports referenced in the news release were accurate. The reports came in the form of a Memorandum of Interview, which is issued when an establishment fails to follow Good Commercial Practice (GCP) regulatory requirements, the spokesperson stated in an email.
Inspections staff at the USDA approached the business about the findings. Plant management said high winds the night of May 6 into May 7 may have been able to turn the fans and channel cold air into the shed where the chickens were stored, the reports show.
Video footage showed the fans being turned by wind the night of May 7 into May 8 and that could have happened the night before, plant management told the USDA.
Inspection staff noted that in one of the trailers, multiple dead birds were found on the side directly exposed to a row of fans and among cages at the level of the fans, the USDA reports state. The opposite side of the trailer did not have an excessive number of dead on arrival birds, the reports state.
Temperatures in Edinburg for overnight May 6 into May 7 were not available, said Jeremy Geiger, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sterling. Temperatures recorded in Woodstock reached a low of 34 degrees, likely in the morning of May 7, Geiger said. Wind speeds for Edinburg were also not available. The nearest location of observed wind speeds were recorded at the Luray airport, Geiger said. Those speeds ranged from about 5 to 8 mph out of the north, northwest with about one gust of up to 18 mph May 6 into May 7, 2020, Geiger said.
PETA sent a letter to Shenandoah County Commonwealth’s Attorney Amanda Wiseley in April requesting criminal charges be placed against the George’s Inc. plant in Edinburg at 19992 Senedo Road as well as the workers responsible for the chickens being left out overnight.
“PETA hopes to obtain a small measure of justice for the more than 2,500 animals who died on a cold truck overnight,” said Daniel Paden, vice president for evidence and analysis. “The public has a right to know how animals suffer and die in an industry from which people might be buying products. Cruelty like this is one of the many reasons why we encourage people to choose vegan.”
According to an email last month from the USDA FSIS spokesperson, George’s Inc. has maintained general process control and was in compliance with Good Commercial Practice regulatory requirements.
A message left at the George’s Inc. plant in Edinburg seeking comment for this story was not returned.
Wiseley did not return a request for comment. As of May 20, Paden said PETA had not heard from Wiseley’s office about the letter.