KFC has labelled the investigation by animal rights activists, which revealed horrific cruelty at a major US chicken supplier awarded 'Supplier of the Year' in 1997, as a "mischaracterisation" of KFC.
"Pilgrim's Pride is one of our many suppliers, and we are just one of many fast food companies that buy from this Moorefield, West Virginia facility. In fact, we only buy 15 per cent of all the product this facility produces - our other fast food competitors buy the other 85 per cent," said KFC president Gregg Dedrick.
"So why did PETA single us out? Why did they mischaracterise this Pilgrim's Pride facility as a "KFC facility?" Why did they attempt to make it look like we raise and process chickens, when they know we do not?"
Dedrick contends that the video is part of a concerted anti-KFC campaign, shot through with lies and propaganda.
"We think it's outrageous that PETA is unfairly singling out KFC," he said at Wednesday's press conference. "They've done this because we're the most recognised brand selling chicken today, and our name, Kentucky Fried Chicken, is synonymous with chicken. So we have become their target."
"We ask you today to stop being a pawn used by PETA."
But People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), the organisation that shot the film, believe they have every right to point the finger at KFC. The undercover video details improper treatment of chickens and unhygienic behaviour at a US plant that was named KFC's "Supplier of the Year" in 1997.
Available on Peta's kfccruelty.com website, the video depicts workers at the plant owned by Pilgrim's Pride, the second largest processor of chickens in the United States, breaking birds' beaks, throwing them into cages and shows dead and lame birds in appallingly overcrowded conditions.
On top of this, KFC itself boasts that "as a major purchaser of food products, we have the opportunity, and responsibility, to influence the way animals supplied to us are treated. We take that responsibility very seriously, and we are monitoring our suppliers on an ongoing basis to determine whether our suppliers are using humane procedures for caring for and handling animals they supply to us.
"As a consequence, it is our goal to only deal with suppliers who promise to maintain our high standards and share our commitment to animal welfare".
Some would say that it is a bit rich therefore for KFC to wash its hands of at least some responsibility, and on Wednesday Dedrick attempted to qualify KFC's involvement in animal welfare. "While we have set standards for our suppliers, it's ultimately up to them to enforce them every day," he said.
Dedrick did confirm that the KFC found the behaviour by Pilgrim's Pride employees at the plant "appalling" and in violation of "the standards we have in place for all our suppliers". The company has told Pilgrim's Pride that KFC will no longer buy product from this facility until they can guarantee there are no more instances of animal abuse.
KFC also announced that it will place an inspector at the facility to monitor activities and has asked Pilgrim's Pride to place security cameras to ensure that this behaviour is not repeated again.
For its part, Pilgrim's Pride has sacked 11 employees, including one superintendent, one supervisor, one foreman and eight hourly employees as a result of the scandal.
"Pilgrim's Pride follows the animal welfare guidelines recommended by the National Chicken Council (NCC)," the company said in a statement this week. "This program covers all aspects of broiler chicken welfare and was developed by industry experts in consultation with academic experts from leading universities.
"Further, under the terms of Pilgrim's Pride employment, any employee who observes violations of the company's animal welfare policies is obligated to report them immediately to their supervisor."