The Kroger Company plans to continue stocking products from Simmons Farm Raised Catfish, and a county prosecutor reportedly has said he’s not going to take any action, following a disturbing undercover investigation from Animal Equality that documented fish and turtles allegedly being ground up alive and left out of water for hours.

Animal Equality sent the footage from an undercover investigator at Simmons’ facility in Yazoo City, Miss., to major grocery retailers stocking the products, as well as to the Yazoo County Sheriff and Prosecutor.

While the well-known retailer Save-A-Lot told the nonprofit they aren’t stocking Simmons products anymore, the response from the other agencies — namely, that they’re refusing to cut ties with Simmons — will allow countless other animals to suffocate and suffer, said Sharon Núñez, Animal Equality’s President.

“Kroger chose to ignore legal violations of animal welfare and instead chose to cozy up to industry lobbyists to keep business as usual allowing animals who were left to suffocate for up to an hour on its shelves,” Núñez said.

Kroger did not respond for this story. 

But in an email shared with Lady Freethinker by Animal Equality, a Kroger manager told Animal Equality that a company review — involving outreach only to the Catfish Farmers of America Association and Simmons — had found insufficient evidence of animal welfare issues in the footage.

“At this time, we did not find enough to warrant a product withdrawal,” wrote Kari Armbruster, an ESG Manager of corporate affairs with Kroger.

Kroger response to investigation

An email from a Kroger representative (Courtesy of Animal Equality)

The nonprofit had sent Kroger a detailed letter of alleged legal violations in the footage, including that Mississippi law prohibits the torture or tormenting of living creatures, including fish; of depriving animals of necessary sustenance, including oxygen; and of needlessly mutilating animals.

The company has told Animal Equality there are no plans to re-open the investigation, showing where the company’s loyalties lie, Núñez said. 

“Kroger is putting its reputation on the line to support a company that beheads fish while fully conscious, grinds turtles and other animals alive, and allows fish to be left out of water as they struggle to breathe,” she said.

Animal Equality also sent a USB drive — containing video evidence, investigator log notes, and other documentation — to the Yazoo County Sheriff in February and received word that the case would be referred to a prosecutor, said Sean Thomas, the international director of investigations at Animal Equality.

They also sent that information in May to County Prosecutor John Donaldson, who allegedly sent back a one line email that said, “I have no interest I [sic] any of this,” according to Thomas.

When a female staff member reached out again to clarify whether Donaldson had even reviewed the information to see if the footage violated the laws he’s required to uphold,  Donaldson “responded very dismissively and demanded [we] stop contacting him,” and also told the staff member he was blocking her, Thomas said.

Donaldson did not respond for this story. 

But Investigator Noble Brooks, with the Yazoo County Sheriff’s Office, told LFT that he had checked in with Donaldson and heard back that he would not be pursuing prosecution due to a reported “lack of evidence.”

“All I can say is that I checked in with the prosecuting attorney, John Donaldson, and that he said he’s not prosecuting the matter because of a lack of evidence,” Brooks said.

Animal Equality sent another letter to Kroger’s CEO Rodney McMullen on Oct. 19, alleging that Simmons’ conduct clearly violates animal cruelty laws and is in “severe breach of Kroger’s vendor code of conduct.”

“Kroger appears to have entirely disregarded the plain text of the law and instead based its conclusions solely on self-interested assertions by Simmons and its trade group,” the letter said. “As far as we can tell, Kroger did not perform any legal analysis of the situation at all, and it instead simply arrived at its no violations determination based on what it was told by the very supplier under investigation.”