An employee of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture says she tipped off Butterball prior to a raid on the facility because she wanted to "immediately curtail avian abuse."
In December, sheriff's deputies raided a Hoke County Butterball turkey farm after an animal rights group, Mercy for Animals, recorded undercover video of turkey's being abused. In the video, workers are seen kicking and dragging the animals.
However, warrants indicate that Dr. Sarah Jean Mason, the director of Animal Health Programs with the N.C. Department of Agriculture, leaked information to Butterball that the investigation was taking place.
Mason initially told investigators she had not leaked the information, but she later admitted it once confronted with information that proved otherwise.
In a letter from Mason's attorney, she said, "I knew that, as a fellow professional veterinarian, Dr. [Eric] Gonder would want to quickly be made aware of any alleged abuse.
Gonder is the staff veterinarian for Butterball, and Mason is accused of alerting him to the investigation of animal abuse at the Hoke County facility.
As the staff veterinarian, Mason says Gonder is "directly responsible for insuring animal cruelty, avian abuse, was not occurring at the poultry farm."
In the letter, dated Jan. 17, Mason was apologetic for her actions, saying, "I recognize the seriousness of the situation and do not want my actions to negatively influence the public's perception of my colleagues at the Department."
Mason insisted she acted alone and "nobody at the Department was aware of the actions I took."
"I was not asked by anyone at the Department to contact ... Gonder," Mason said.
Mercy for Animals published video of the alleged abuse on the Butterballabuse.com website. The organization said it is shocked at the allegations against Mason.
"It's deeply troubling that a government agency that is responsible for overseeing and monitoring agriculture and food production is so corrupt, they are in bed with the very corporate interests that were documented abusing and neglecting animals," said Vandhana Bala with Mercy For Animals.
No charges have been filed against Mason, but the investigation is on-going.
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