If livestock sector fails to police against abuse, government will

Farmers tend to view covert video taken by activists working as temporary employees as invasive at best and sinister at worst.

Trouble is, the tactic keeps showing its worth by revealing abuse of livestock; abuse that can’t be tolerated by the agriculture industry or by society as a whole.

Such was the case at several British Columbia poultry operations when undercover video taken by an activist with Mercy for Animals showed a crew of chicken catchers kicking, throwing and driving over live chickens and committing other egregious acts best left undescribed here.

The abuse was videoed over a period of weeks in May and June at several chicken operations in the Fraser Valley. The B.C. SPCA is investigating, and criminal charges against the perpetrators are likely.

The motivation for such reprehensible behaviour defies understanding.

Glaringly obvious, on the other hand, is the need for more supervision, more training, careful screening of prospective employees and more attention to livestock welfare at every link in the food chain.

Like most other livestock sectors in Canada, chicken producers have a national code of practice for the care and handling of poultry.

As stated under requirements for catching, loading and unloading, “catching crews must be supervised by a competent individual” and a “producer or a competent designee” should be on hand to assist.

That was clearly not the case in the Fraser Valley incidents.

Canadian chicken farmers also adhere to an additional mandatory animal care program that is audited and enforced. It states that “the responsibility of catching and loading is shared between farmers and processors.”

And what of contractors like Elite Farm Services, the company that hired the chicken catchers in this case of abuse? What of any secondary business that services the livestock industry and has employees who come in contact with livestock?

This video shows they should have enforced protocols and standards as well.

The chicken industry has identified this. As a result of the video, producers, marketing boards and processors have started reviewing their practices and plugging the gaps where livestock abuse might occur.

Elite has already said it will equip some workers with body cameras in the future to ensure birds are handled properly.

How sad that such work and such measures are necessary. How sad that some people can’t be relied upon, without supervision, to treat animals humanely and with respect.

But if the industry fails to police itself regarding animal welfare, the public will demand that the government do it instead, likely with a heavier hand and less understanding of agricultural practices and needs.

This instance of cruelty to chickens will encourage more covert, undercover videos to be taken at livestock operations. They’ll stop only when there’s either nothing extraordinary to show or when society stops eating meat. Ensuring the former will prevent the latter.

Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod, D’Arce McMillan and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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