We've been warned about how cruelly chickens, cattle and pigs are treated in the modern factory-farming system. Now animal-welfare activists want us to think about the torment turkeys go through before they reach our Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner tables.
CBC Marketplace was set to air a segment Friday night based on video footage shot secretly by Mercy for Animals Canada (MFA), showing turkeys being beaten to death, carried painfully by their open wings and displaying appalling injuries because of forced breeding.
A YouTube video posted on the group's separate web site on the issue also raises questions on how deeply someone has to suppress their humanity to work in a factory farm.
Warning: Video contains graphic content
The video, if you have the stomach to sit through it, will make you think twice about your holiday the bird (or club sandwich, for that matter) unless you've sourced it from some certified free-range operator.
A worker is shown beating a turkey to death with a shovel. It takes a long time to die. One segment shows a worker trying to dispatch a turkey with a golf swing. In another, live turkeys are tossed like medicine balls. A female turkey is shown with its reproductive parts hanging out from over use, another walking with intestines trailing on the ground.
“This was the worst abuse I’ve ever seen inflicted on an animal,” the MFA's undercover worker who shot the video told Marketplace co-host Erica Johnson, CBC News said.
Hybrid Turkeys, the Ontario producer whose operation was depicted in the video, responded by suspending four employees who appear in the footage, CBC News said.
The company, which accounts for 60 per cent of the turkeys raised and killed for food in Canada, insisted that's not the way it operates. The company released a statement earlier this month in anticipation of the CBC Marketplace segment saying multiple audits suggest the footage depicts an isolated incident.
“As soon as we had evidence that this was going on in the barn, we took immediate action and we suspended the employees that were involved, because they were not adhering to our welfare practices, and zero tolerance for us means zero tolerance,” said spokeswoman Helen Wojcinski.
“We feel this is an isolated incident. Employees have been trained. They know what they're supposed to do. There is obviously a lapse. There's been a mistake made here.”
Poultry vet Dr. Mike Petrik of Guelph, Ont., told The Canadian Press the video was cut to show the Hybrid operation in the worst possible light and did not represent how turkeys are treated in Ontario.
You can believe, if you want, that just one or two sadistic employees somehow indulged in this behaviour under the noses of their supervisor. It doesn't explain the gaping injuries seen on the overbred female turkeys, or the deformed feet of the birds which have been bred to grow rapidly and maximize the desirable breast meat, giving them an unbalanced mutant look.
MFA's undercover sleuthing has been instrumental in exposing conditions at pork and poultry factory farming operations. The common denominator seems to be a willingness to maximize production and lower cost at the expense of animals' well-being.
We want meat to come to our table at the lowest possible price and most of us seem ready to ignore how it gets there.
But that doesn't answer the question of how individual employees can become so desensitized to suffering that they treat animals this way.
"Employees are not using the method of euthanasia that we want them to use," Wojcinski, Hybrid's science and sustainability manager, told CP.
Mercy for Animals is asking the public to pressure government to establish codes of practice for turkey producers that sick or injured birds get immediate treatment, and if necessary, are humanely euthanized by a qualified vet.
MFA also wants the industry to stop breeding fast-growing, outsized birds and also to install video-monitoring systems in all operations, with footage live-streamed to the web.
Current Canadian law on animal cruelty requires someone to file a complaint – which MFA has done with Hybrid, prompting a criminal police and SPCA investigation.
But B.C. SPCA staffer Geoff Urton said the complaint-based system doesn't adequately protect farm animals.
“There’s a gaping hole in the system with regard to monitoring and inspection of these farms across Canada,” Urton told CBC News.
The SPCA has the power to inspect farms if a complaint is made, he said.
“But generally, that would take a whistleblower to come forward, and actual animal cruelty complaints," Urton said.
“Ultimately, there should be some kind of proactive inspection and monitoring compliance system in Canada. Otherwise, how can anybody know how these animals are being treated?”