Angel Chen was horrified at what she saw as a participant in a Sept. 2 protest at the Jumbo Valley turkey operation near Fort Macleod, Alta.
She was among 30 animal rights activists who entered a turkey barn to observe conditions and promote transparency about the treatment of livestock.
“Even though it was a free -range farm, there were many, many turkeys that had broken legs, some of them completely twisted around. So many of them were collapsing, couldn’t stand up because their body weight.… So that was really heartbreaking to see and really upsetting.
“I also saw turkeys with large tumours hanging off of their bodies, multiple turkeys that had that condition. I have photos and videos of this as well.”
Chen, who lives in Vancouver, said this was her first-ever visit to a turkey farm. However, animal welfare was not the main focus of the protest.
“Our concern is not the living conditions per se. It’s not that we want better conditions, it’s that we want the end of animal exploitation completely. Not farming animals for food, because we have so many other alternatives, like plants, that are way better for the environment and can provide all nutritional needs for humans.”
Chen said the protesters were not affiliated with any particular group but came from across Canada specifically for the planned event.
Once on the farm, the group demanded that electronic media be allowed in the barns to show conditions and asked for a commitment that the protesters not be charged for their actions — charges that could include breaking and entering, mischief and trespass.
The third demand was that five turkeys be given to them so the birds’ lives could be spared, which Chen particularly noted as a goal achieved.
“They volunteered to give us five turkeys into our care so we were able to save five lives, which is really incredible. Otherwise these five really lucky turkeys would have been killed. They now get to live in a farm sanctuary where they can live out the rest of their lives in freedom without being exploited for their bodies.”
Media were also allowed inside the barns and provided coverage on newscasts. As for charges, the Fort Macleod RCMP said an investigation is ongoing. Jumbo Valley Hutterite Colony minister Mark Tschetter said the farm has been encouraged to ensure charges are laid.
Asked about the trespass onto private property, Chen said those in the group feel it is necessary to their goal.
“We’re not against farmers at all. We’re not against individuals or families or anything. Absolutely not. We are just against the industry as a whole and exposing the truth so that people can make better choices. And over time we believe that we can switch, that farmers can switch, to a different type of farming … the economy can transition into a plant-based economy in the future.”
Camille Labchuk is the executive director of Animal Justice, a group that aims to lead the legal fight for animal protection. Animal Justice was not part of the Fort Macleod turkey farm protest but has been involved in projects where undercover videos have identified animal abuse at several Canadian livestock operations.
She said animal activists are frustrated by the absence of laws protecting farm animals and by the lack of transparency within the livestock industry.
“There are no binding legal standards and because there are no binding legal standards there is no enforcement by government agencies that can apply the law because the laws do not exist,” said Labchuk.
“So the farming industry has largely been left to self-regulate and I think people are waking up to this and finding it increasingly problematic. As our attitudes about animals change and people become more and more aware of what happens behind the closed doors of factory farms, they’re becoming concerned and speaking up.”
She said the codes of practice developed through the National Farm Animal Care Council were created by industry to self-regulate and thus the codes lack credibility. As for audits done on turkey farms, she said they lack transparency.
“We don’t have any way of knowing how often an industry representative had attended the farm. We don’t have any way of knowing what they might find and there’s no legal sanctions that can apply in those circumstances if they do find something that’s out of step with the codes,” Labchuk said.
Faced with criticisms about livestock care, farmers and ranchers often say they welcome the public to visit their operations and see for themselves. Labchuk does not see that as a sincere offer.
Typically, visitors are given a sanitized version of farm operations through such things as public breakfasts on dairy farms where the best face is put forward, she said.
That is why Animal Justice supports tactics such as undercover videos.
“I think it’s one of the few ways for the public to actually get a glimpse of what happens behind the closed doors of farms.”
Chen said trespassing on the turkey farm was necessary to expose the truth.
She said those who went inside the barn are aware that they may face criminal charges.
“Everyone that was inside are prepared and fully realize that this is a risk, but the point is that we are willing to risk our own freedom in order to expose the truth and in order to help animals get their freedom in the long run, in the big picture. We are aware of the risk completely, for sure.”