A company responsible for catching chickens at farms in British Columbia's Fraser Valley says it has fired five employees after an animal rights group released video of alleged abuse.
Dwayne Dueck, president of Elite Services based in Chilliwack, said in a statement the company was taking "immediate corrective action" and one of the fired employees was a supervisor.
"Elite Services understands the importance of ensuring the proper care and handling of animals. Proper handling techniques help maintain production quality and effectively reduce stress on the animals," he said.
"We are sickened with the footage and want to ensure all our suppliers and producers that this is not reflective of who we are, our fundamental beliefs or behaviour we accept from our employees."
The graphic footage, released by Mercy for Animals, shows workers hitting, kicking and throwing chickens; workers simulating sex acts with chickens; and sick and injured birds left to languish and die, among other abuses.
The SPCA in British Columbia has launched a formal investigation.
“In one particularly disturbing scene, a worker tries to rip a live animal in half with his bare hands,” said Lindsay Wolf, vice-president of investigations at Mercy for Animals, in a tele-press conference on June 13. “This is the 12th undercover expose by Mercy for Animals and it is some of the most sickening and sadistic abuse we have ever seen.”
The undercover video was shot at more than a dozen chicken factory farms in British Columbia that supply a Lilydale slaughterhouse in Port Coquitlam. Lilydale is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Markham, Ont.-based Sofina Foods.
Sofina said it has reviewed the "horrifying footage"and it is "appalled and extremely shocked" by it.
"Ethical and responsible treatment of animals is of utmost importance to our organization," it said.
"We are taking immediate steps with our supplier to initiate a comprehensive investigation of the situation and have engaged internal and external expertise to help us determine proper course of action in line with our animal care commitment and expectations."
Mercy for Animals is demanding prosecution of the employees and companies responsible for the abuse. It has submitted a detailed legal complaint and the video footage to law enforcement including the RCMP, CFIA and the BC SPCA. “We expect swift and meaningful action to bring justice on behalf of these tortured animals,” said Wolf.
In an email to Canadian Grocer, Wolf said Mercy for Animals would like to see grocers across Canada implement meaningful animal welfare policies for all chickens sold in the country.
In a statement, Sofina Foods said it was “extremely shocked and appalled” by the video. The company said it was launching an investigation and has requested that all of the supplier’s employees involved in the abusive behaviours be dismissed immediately.
“Our industry continuously works to enhance animal care practices, including the Poultry Code of Practice and CFIA’s regulations and mandatory protocols,” the statement said. “We expect all our suppliers to be in full compliance with all such regulations and protocols at all times.”
Chicken Farmers of Canada (CFC) called the video shocking and reprehensible. In a statement, CFC said it had an animal care program that is mandatory, third-party audited and enforced on every farm. “While CFC's role is to promote and defend good management practices, we count on every stakeholder in the chicken value chain to be vigilant and responsible.”
Asked by Canadian Grocer why such industry programs are falling short, Wolf said: “It’s clear that the industry cannot be held accountable for self-regulations and that this criminal activity continues to take place. So whether there are policies in place or not, they’re clearly not adequate or sufficient by any means.”