Butterball’s Non-Response to Thanksgiving Abuse Controversy

Butterball pretty much rules the turkey game. Millions of Americans will eat its products this week (and, thanks to the magic of leftovers, next week too). The company also scores high marks when it comes to PR. Its famous Talk Line, staffed by graduates of Butterball University, grants cooking advice to millions (the team receives 12,000 calls on Thanksgiving day alone).

And yet, when it comes to more controversial matters, the company’s PR team has a whole lot less to say. Last week, an animal rights group called Mercy For Animals began a campaign against Butterball. The group comes armed with a hidden camera video depicting some violence perpetrated against turkeys at Butterball facilities, and they’ve launched a website called ButterballAbuse to publicly shame the company into adopting more humane practices (the company’s PR manager claims that Butterball maintains a “zero tolerance policy for animal abuse”).

A recent investigation by the perennial muckrakers at Mother Jones found a company understandably reluctant to discuss the abuse issue–or much of anything else. A reporter for the magazine peppered a couple of company spokespeople with basic questions about sales totals and the age of the average Butterball turkey before asking about their planned response to the MFA campaign and inquiring about the use of growth enhancers in the company’s birds. She received no response beyond a scheduling excuse and a reference to the official policy statements.

We understand Butterball’s desire to avoid controversy during its most important sales period–and we know that no one expects its turkeys to be “organic” or “free range” or even “grain-fed”. Still, we wonder whether this non-response is appropriate for a company that claims to be “ready and excited to tackle any challenge you throw at them.”

Is silence always the best response to an unflattering question?