Chickens thrown to the ground, clubbed, squeezed into dark and tight quarters, suffering injuries resulting from over-breeding and rapid growth—these are some of the allegations a national animal rights organization is making towards a Delaware poultry supplier.

Mercy for Animals, a national animal rights organization, accuses McGinnis Farms in Dagsboro of cruelty towards its chickens. The abuse at the farm, which is a poultry supplier for Tyson, was caught on hidden camera by an undercover investigator.

During a press conference in Wilmington Thursday, Matt Rice, director of investigations, screened video footage from the investigation, and called for tighter animal cruelty regulations.

“It’s a matter of industry standards allowing for blatant animal abuse,” he said. “As the largest meat producer in the world, Tyson Foods not only has the power but the responsibility to end some of the worst forms of factory farm cruelty.”

In an email statement, Tyson said animal well-being is one of the company’s top priorities, and it is investigating the matter.  

“We do not tolerate improper animal treatment and take claims of animal abuse very seriously,” said spokesman Gary Mickelson.

Mercy for Animals previously investigated another Tyson farm to investigate its treatment of pigs. The organization has conducted more than 40 investigations at factory farms and slaughterhouses across the U.S. and Canada.

The organization says it randomly chooses the farms, and investigators get jobs as workers to expose mistreatment of animals.

Some of the companies investigated in the past, such as Nestle, have introduced regulations to improve quality of life for animals, according to Mercy for Animals.

Poultry is the top agricultural product for Delaware, and last year the State’s family farms produced 240 million chickens, according to the Delaware Department of Agriculture.  

Rice said 290,000 chickens were in line for slaughter during Mercy for Animals’ three-month long investigation, and of those 52,000 died before they even went to the slaughterhouse.

Tyson states programs and policies already are in place at its company to protect animals. These regulations include the Tyson Farm Check program, which involves third-party auditors who check for quality issues, such as access to food and water, human-to-animal interaction and worker training. 

“We’re continually looking for ways to improve how we operate, and this includes animal well-being,” Mickelson said. “We’re constantly researching new ways to keep our chickens healthy and safe.”

The company also said it offered to meet with Mercy for Animals. But the organization denies that statement, saying Tyson declined its offer to fly company members out to meet in Arkansas.

Tyson also states that during the time the hidden video was taken, several of the birds had respiratory illnesses. The company states the images of the birds in the video is not typical for the farm. Mercy for Animals say it was the poorly kept quarters that led to those illnesses.

The Delaware Department of Agriculture issued a statement Thursday after learning about the allegations.  

“We are aware of the information that's been reported in the media, but have not had an opportunity to review it completely. DDA was not informed about the video or its contents in advance of the statement today,” spokesman Daniel Shortridge said in a statement.

“Delaware's family farmers strive hard to do a good job not only in all aspects of production, but also in all aspects of animal welfare.”

The birds at McGinnis Farms weren’t in federally-inspected slaughter facilities and don’t fall within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s regulatory authority.

However, the USDA said any allegations of animal cruelty must be taken seriously and thoroughly investigated by the proper authorities to ensure all animals are treated with care and dignity.

There are federal regulations in place to protect livestock.

The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act protects livestock when they’re presented for slaughter at federally inspected establishments. The Animal Welfare Act allows the USDA to ensure the proper care of live animals when used in biomedical research, testing and exhibition.

Rice said chickens aren’t protected under these laws, however. He said the mistreatment of birds captured in the undercover video is standard in the U.S.

Mercy for Animals is calling upon Tyson and McGinnis farms to produce slower growing birds, provide more space, clean litter and light for birds, introduce tighter animal cruelty regulations and install livestream cameras at farms.

“These are all common sense, science-based measures that would alleviate the needless suffering of billions of animals in this country,” Rice said.