Ont. poultry packer back under hidden-camera spotlight

Canada’s biggest poultry processor is back under animal welfare activists’ scrutiny with hidden-camera footage alleging more mishandling of birds at one of its packing plants.

Maple Lodge Farms, which in September 2013 was convicted under the federal Health of Animals Act over birds’ exposure to cold weather during transport, said Saturday it’s paying “prompt attention” to the latest undercover video obtained by Mercy for Animals Canada.

According to CTV news program W5, which aired clips of the footage Saturday, the video was shot at Maple Lodge’s Brampton, Ont. chicken slaughter plant over a six-month period.

Mercy for Animals said its footage shows “countless” chickens arriving dead and frozen at the plant — and birds remaining conscious past both the electrical stunning and throat-cutting phase, while passing through the scalding process before feathers are removed.

W5 quoted the unnamed Mercy for Animals operative as saying some birds would flap and struggle to free themselves after going through the stunning pool and therefore would miss the blades meant to cut their throats.

The organizations also said some birds are getting trapped in the doors of their transport crates and are “severely injured” in the crates.

W5 said Mercy for Animals Canada has now filed a complaint with both the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

In its complaint, W5 said, the group alleges birds “continued to be exposed to freezing temperatures during transport,” and “became trapped in the doors of transport crates and severely injured in the transport crates.”

Furthermore, the group told W5, the plant’s “excessive line speed made it impossible for workers to handle and hang birds humanely.”

The group also alleged management had been instructing workers “to hang sick and severely injured animals on the slaughter line along with birds intended for human consumption.”

MFA Canada, in a separate release, urged a boycott of the company and called on Maple Lodge to “adopt meaningful animal welfare policies to prevent the worst forms of animal abuse at its facilities and in its supply chain.”

Animal Justice Canada, another animal welfare group, called Sunday for charges against Maple Lodge Farms.

“Federal humane handling policy prohibits throwing and dropping crates of live chickens, shackling sick and injured birds for slaughter, negligently sending live animals through industrial washing machines, and allowing animals to dangle by one leg through the slaughter process,” Anna Pippus, the group’s director of farmed animal advocacy, said in a separate release.

“Disciplinary action”

Maple Lodge said Saturday it has “launched our own investigation and in keeping with our zero-tolerance policy for any violation of our animal welfare policies, we will take appropriate disciplinary action, including dismissal, in any instance where non-compliance is identified.”

Furthermore, the company said Saturday, it has already set up a proprietary “modular loading and gas-stunning system” on one of the plant’s three processing lines and has had a “massive renovation” to the plant’s live receiving area to set up a similar system on the other two lines “in the near future.”

For its 2013 conviction, the company in March last year was fined $40,000 on each of two counts of Health of Animals Act violations, and was given three years’ probation on 18 related counts.

On its website, as a condition of its probation, the company has since posted “compliance statistics” for the first three quarters of fiscal 2014, providing quarterly summaries of loads in which birds found dead on arrival exceed CFIA thresholds.

For broilers, the company noted one load in its first quarter (April through June) out of compliance exceeding the CFIA’s threshold of one per cent broiler mortalities.

For hens, meanwhile, the company reported 11, six and two loads out of compliance in its first, second and third quarters respectively, exceeding the CFIA’s threshold of four per cent hen mortalities.

“Complex issue”

“Our commitment to providing the best possible care for our birds is absolutely unwavering,” Maple Lodge said Saturday. “That is why we find any allegations or findings of activity that is not consistent with that commitment so distressing.”

Any non-compliance, and any process improvements not already undertaken as part of the company’s animal welfare improvement program, “will be addressed promptly,” the company added.

Transporting live birds is “quite surprisingly a very complex issue,” Maple Lodge has previously said on its site. “For instance, research determines such things as the optimal number of chickens per crate to keep them warm/cool and not over- or under-heated.”

Chickens “pant” to regulate their body temperatures, which in turn builds up condensation in the trailers that can later freeze in cold conditions or act to “intensify” heat in warm conditions, the company said.

Adjusting standards to best control the conditions in livestock trailers is “not a quick fix but we remain committed to the research and the implementation of new and proven standards, equipment and technology as it becomes available in order to fulfill our commitment to improving bird welfare.” — AGCanada.com Network

 

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