Written for Daily Hive by Peter Fricker, Communications Director of the Vancouver Humane Society.
Charges against two B.C. businesses for animal abuse may serve as a warning shot to other companies in the agriculture industry that they, and not just individual employees, are accountable for any mistreatment of the animals they raise, transport and slaughter.
Last week, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) laid charges against Sofina Foods, Elite Farm Services and Elite’s president, Dwayne Dueck, for allegedly beating chickens and loading them in a way “likely to cause injury or undue suffering.” They are scheduled to appear in court today, December 18.
The charges stem from video footage released by animal activists in June 2017 that showed chickens at a Chilliwack poultry operation being mangled, stomped on, thrown against a wall, and smashed into transport crates. The BC SPCA, which described the abuse as “absolutely sickening,” recommended charges, but a year and a half later Crown Counsel has still not prosecuted anyone.
The CFIA, however, has pursued charges under federal Health of Animals Regulation, which may financially penalize the companies.
When the alleged offences became public, the companies involved were quick to distance themselves from the revelations. Sofina Foods called the footage “horrifying” and said it had requested that all of the employees involved be dismissed immediately.
Elite’s Mr. Dueck stated: “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 behaviours we accept from our employees.”
Six of Elite’s employees were fired but now it is the companies that are being held to account for alleged animal abuse, a development that should send a signal to others in the livestock industry that they can’t escape responsibility for what happens to the animals they profit from.
For too long, industrialized animal farms have been in a state of denial about animal suffering that occurs in their business. When the 2017 undercover video emerged, the B.C. Chicken Marketing Board said: “It does not represent in any way, shape or form, how we do our business, not only here but anywhere in Canada.”
Yet, for years, undercover animal activists have exposed numerous cases of animal cruelty on farms across Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere.
The ease with which the undercover investigators have been able to find and reveal abuse suggests that animal cruelty in intensive farming is not the rare occurrence that operators claim.
WARNING: This video contains highly disturbing footage of chickens being grossly abused. Viewer discretion is strongly advised.
Media coverage of animal cruelty on industrialized farms in the United States has become so commonplace and damaging to the industry that it has lobbied for “ag-gag” laws criminalizing undercover videos of the cruelty.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that some of these videos expose not only illegal acts of cruelty but also standard practices on industrialized farms that result in misery for animals. For decades, millions of hens have suffered in cruel battery cages, that are only now being slowly phased out (and may be replaced with only marginally better “enriched” cages). Pigs and chickens are routinely transported in cramped trucks over long distances in extreme heat and cold.
Much of the suffering on factory farms is invisible to the public. Science has shown that poultry raised for meat experience painful skeletal disorders and lameness as a result of selective breeding for fast growth. And despite the images of happy cows in pastures on milk cartons, most dairy cows in Canada are kept indoors, never feeling the sun on their backs.
Even animal agriculture’s own internal monitoring systems reveal poor animal welfare. In 2016, inspection reports from the B.C. Milk Marketing Board, made public by media, showed that one in four farms in the province failed to comply with the provincial animal-welfare Code of Practice. During an 18-month period starting in January, 2015, the inspections revealed cases of overcrowding, lame or soiled cattle, tails torn off by machinery, branding and dehorning of calves without pain medication, and other examples of poor welfare.
The CFIA’s charges against Sofina Foods and Elite Farm Services should be welcomed, as they may encourage others in the industry to do more to prevent the kinds of extreme cruelty seen in undercover video footage. However, no one should forget that this is an industry that incarcerates, transports and slaughters animals in conditions that compromise animal welfare but are not illegal.
Ultimately, the best way to help these animals is to reject factory farming entirely and stop buying the products this cruel industrial system produces.