An animal cruelty case in British Columbia rocks the poultry industry as calls grow for answers and solutions
Disturbing, sadistic, sickening and reprehensible: these are the adjectives used by the Canadian chicken industry and the British Columbia SPCA to describe an undercover video made public June 12 that shows workers abusingchickens.
The video was shot by a worker with the Mercy for Animals group at operations in B.C.’s Fraser Valley. It shows chicken catchers employed by Elite Farm Services kicking broiler chickens, smashing them into walls, ripping live birds’ legs off and forcing them into simulated sexual positions.
The B.C SPCA is investigating the matter with intent to lay charges against the workers and Elite Farm Services under the Criminal Code and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, said SPCA prevention and enforcement officer Marcie Moriarty.
She said the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is conducting its own investigation of possible infractions under the Health of Animals Act and violations of transportation regulations.
“We have been in contact with crown counsel, but we are still in the investigation side, more to support the evidence that’s already there. We will be putting in a formal recommendation to crown counsel in the next few weeks,” Moriarty said June 14.
Six employees with Elite have been fired as a result of the video, and although that action was expected and appropriate, said Moriarty, there were more than six people involved so the investigation is ongoing.
Elite Farm Services president Dwayne Dueck acknowledged the workers’ “senseless acts of violence” and said some of the company’s employees will have to wear body cameras in the future. Recordings are then to be viewed by supervisors each day.
Chicken Farmers of Canada said there is no defense for mistreatment of birds.
“We welcome the support of any authority, from B.C. SPCA to the RCMP, whoever wants to take action with respect to this matter,” said CFC communications manager Lisa Bishop Spencer.
“This is animal abuse. This is why we’re supporting the B.C. SPCA in their investigation because we want to make sure that the people accountable for these depraved acts are punished to the full extent of the law.”
Moriarty said the whistleblower who shot the video says chicken abuse was reported to supervisors at Elite but no action was taken.
“Obviously we need to deal with the actions that were depicted in the video, but also there’s the inactions,” she said.
A case of dairy cow abuse at Chilliwack Cattle Sales in 2014 set a precedent when the company and its owners were held responsible for their employees’ actions and fined. Some of the employees were sentenced to jail time.
Moriarty said those precedents could be factors in this case.
As well, she said the SPCA would like the national poultry code of practice attached to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, just as the dairy code of practice was attached after the Chilliwack Cattle sales abuse case.
Elite Farm Services was contracted by Sofina Foods, a B.C. processor, to catch chickens at various farms and transport them to the plant.
In a statement issued June 14, Sofina said it is working with others in the industry to review and enhance its policies. The company said it has demanded a detailed accounting of actions Elite plans to undertake and it will institute additional monitoring and surveillance of chicken handling activities.
Sofina markets products under the Lilydale brand and supplies chicken to Loblaw’s chain of grocery stores. Loblaw issued its own statement last week condemning the actions shown in the video.
The national code of practice for the care and handling of broiler chickens lists requirements for catching, loading and unloading chickens. Canadian chicken farmers follow the code and also have an audited animal care program in place.
“We have a mandate to implement our mandatory animal care program and that mandatory animal care program, our regulatory authority, allows us to implement that program from the time birds are placed in barn to where they’re prepared for transit to the processor,” said Bishop Spencer.
“While that program doesn’t cover the catching and transport and processing, we definitely have responsibility over those areas, and that’s why we’re working with our industry stakeholders to make sure that we’re covering off all the areas of the chain to make sure that something like what we’ve seen does not happen.”
The CFC, SPCA, Sofina and others in the industry have already met to discuss the video and how to ensure no further abuse occurs. Moriarty said the video is proof that there are gaps in the supply chain in terms of animal welfare protection.
Although the CFC has good animal welfare programs, she said, subsequent links in the chain don’t have similar standards or audits.
“What happens in that last 10 percent of that chicken’s life when, arguably it’s the most stressful part of their life, and who is responsible? And I think in order to gain the confidence back of the public, of the consumer, that needs to be addressed.”