Abuse on a B.C. broiler farm is an isolated incident but the poultry industry must ensure it doesn’t happen again, says Alberta Chicken Producers
Like its predecessors, the latest undercover video by Mercy for Animals showing abuse of animals on a farm has had a big impact.
The 2-1/2-minute long video shows catchers from Elite Farm Services kicking, throwing, and simulating sexual acts with broiler chickens on a farm in B.C.’s Fraser Valley.
Erna Ference, chair of the Alberta Chicken Producers, watched the video, and like many other producers in the province, was disturbed by what she saw.
“It was upsetting,” said Ference, who raises broiler chickens with her husband near Black Diamond. “But they’re just little snippets and you see them over and over again.
“I think it’s wrong to paint the whole industry (as abusive). It’s very unfortunate.”
The B.C. Chicken Producers marketing board has been inundated with calls and has been co-ordinating actions with the Society for Protection of Cruelty to Animals, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
“I think they’re handling it quite well, but they’re hearing a lot,” said Ference.
The Alberta Chicken Producers, and Ference herself, have a good relationship with the chicken catchers and processors, and consider them as partners. Her organization regularly meets with the companies that provide catching crews, and Ference expects there will be discussion of the video and its contents along with what steps have been taken to address the incident at the next meeting (scheduled for the fall).
“We think it’s really unfortunate that that one catching crew has been held up as what the catching industry is like, because that hasn’t been what we’ve seen happen, or had anything reported,” she said.
The B.C. chicken abuse video resulted in the firing of six employees from Elite Farm Services, and the investigation is ongoing.
“I think it’s like any time you hire a crew or an organization — you expect them to fulfil their obligations as part of their employment contract,” she said.
Ference’s catchers are also from Elite Farm Services, and she said she has never witnessed any abuse.
“We’ve found the catchers to be very courteous and very respectful. I can’t imagine that happening.”
Elite Farm Services president Dwayne Dueck has suggested that in the future, some employees may have to wear body cameras to record their treatment of the birds. Ference had heard of this, but had not heard any further details. But the issue needs to be addressed in some manner, said Ference.
“If something is pointed out as being wrong or missed, the industry has an obligation to look into it and try to do a better job, and part of that is education,” she said.
Alberta has three big chicken processors (Lilydale, Maple Leaf and Sunrise) and each contract chicken catching companies. Ference said she expects the Chicken Farmers of Canada will take further action or introduce an initiative in response to the video.
But despite the understandably negative fallout, she said the response has not been entirely one sided. She pointed to an interview she did with an Edmonton radio station about the matter, saying the interviewer asked fair and balanced questions. The radio host also told her that the station had received calls from many farmers who were upset by the cruel treatment of birds in the video.
“I was very happy to hear many producers speaking out and saying, ‘This isn’t acceptable, this isn’t something we see, and what happened in B.C. was an exception,’” she said.