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Workers fired following chicken abuse video

Activist group eyes legal action

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CNS Canada — A British Columbia company tied to nationally broadcast footage of livestock abuse has laid off five workers, according to a statement from the organization Tuesday.

The animal rights and vegan advocacy group responsible for capturing the video says that’s not enough, and is pursuing legal action.

Employees at a Vancouver-area chicken farm were caught in hidden camera footage filmed by a volunteer for Toronto-based Mercy for Animals. The footage was broadcast on CTV News on Monday and posted on YouTube Tuesday.

The video, featured prominently on Mercy for Animals’ website, shows workers throwing birds against crates, slamming them on the ground, slapping and stomping on birds and using them to simulate sexual acts. At one point, an employee attempts to rip a live bird in half.

The video shows some of the abuse happening in front of one of the organization’s supervisors.

Five employees, including one supervisor, have since been laid off.

“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. We do not condone or tolerate animal abuse,” Dwayne Dueck, president at Elite Farm Services, said in a statement.

Elite is the poultry services company that staffed the chicken catchers in question.

Krista Hiddema, managing director at Mercy for Animals, called the statement and action from Elite Farm Services “disingenuous.”

“Elite Services supervisors were involved in the abuse, and were supervising the abuse,” she said.

Mercy for Animals has since filed legal complaints with the RCMP, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BC SPCA), Hiddema said.

Elite Farm Services said it is also in the process of establishing an advisory committee to review animal care guidelines and to create clear policies and procedures in line with industry standards and practices.

Poultry processor Sofina Foods, for whom the company catches birds, said late Monday it’s “appalled and extremely shocked by the video footage we saw of a few of our supplier’s employees displaying disturbing and unacceptable behaviours that (Sofina) does not in any way tolerate or condone.”

Sofina said Monday it had already asked that the employees involved be “dismissed immediately,” and that other staff be “requalified on the importance of animal care and fully understand the consequences of not following protocols.”

Mercy for Animals also alleged some of the abused chickens at the operation in question can be traced to Loblaws-owned grocery locations.

Loblaws released its own statement regarding the abuse allegations, noting it’s “investigating” the activities.

“We have zero tolerance for any animal abuse and have made it very clear to the supplier that this behaviour has absolutely no place in our food supply chain,” the company said.

Loblaws said it stands behind standards set by the National Farm Animal Care Council, the policies outlined by the Chicken Farmers of Canada, and its own commitment to animal welfare.

Chicken Farmers of Canada, in a separate statement late Monday, said there is “no defense for the mistreatment of birds.”

CFC noted its animal care program is “mandatory, third-party audited, and enforced on every farm,” and if a farm is found not complying with program standards, or is “causing undue suffering” to birds, the farmer is “subject to penalties and the proper authorities will be contacted.”

It can be problematic to use industry groups to regulate how animals are treated, Hiddema said. “This is like the fox guarding the hen house.”

The industry “is incapable of governing themselves,” she said, pointing to Mercy for Animals’ multiple undercover exposes in Canada.

The group has an online petition, calling for Loblaws to adopt meaningful animal welfare policies for its supply chains.

“We know that Canadians are compassionate people; they do not want animals tortured, and we’re asking for Canadians to use their buying power to speak up. And it is only through consumers that we’ll change what will happen in Canada,” Hiddema said.

CFC reiterated Monday that “this kind of animal abuse is not and will not be tolerated. It is not representative of how the industry works as a whole.”

— Jade Markus writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting. Includes files from Network staff.

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