by SUSAN MANN
An undercover video shot by an animal welfare group depicting alleged cruelty to hens at a southwestern Ontario farm comes as Canada’s national industry finalizes new treatment standards for laying hens.
Mercy for Animals Canadian managing director Krista Hiddema said the video was shot from March 19 to May 9 by one of the group’s volunteers, who obtained a farm labourer job at the Gray Ridge Egg Farms facility in Moorefield. He wore a pinhole-sized camera when doing his job at Gray Ridge, owed by L.H. Gray & Son Limited.
Hiddema noted the management practices used at the farm are legal and standard within the industry. The organization is not filing a legal complaint.
Alison Cross, director of marketing and communications for the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals confirmed the society hadn’t received a complaint.
Instead, Hiddema said the video demonstrates why the National Farm Animal Care Council needs to update its code of practice and ban the use of cages for layer hens. “If NFACC fails to do this, we believe the government should cut all of the taxpayer funding (it gives to NFACC),” she said.
The council facilitates animal care code updates.
She said at the Gray Ridge farm, the volunteer saw “literally thousands of hens crammed inside cages that were so small they couldn’t really walk, spread their wings or lie down comfortably. Birds were seen trapped in cage wire, and under feed troughs. They were trampled by their cage mates and were unable to reach food and water.”
She said the volunteer saw dead birds still in cages and birds with major injuries, such as swollen eyes.
Hiddema said a recent poll conducted by NRG Research Group shows an overwhelming majority of Canada’s surveyed “said it is not acceptable to keep egg laying hens in cages. Nearly every major Canadian food company, including Tim Hortons, McDonald’s, Loblaws, Metro, Sobeys and Costco, have all pledged to switch to cage free eggs” on or before 2025.
Jackie Wepruk, farm animal care council general manager and project coordinator, said an update is well underway. The update does not make cage free eggs mandatory.
In devising the layer code, the code’s development committee’s entire focus and obligation has been on the welfare of hens regardless of which housing system is used, Wepruk explained.
“Cage-free, in and of itself, provides no assurances with respect to the welfare of the birds in those systems,” she said. “What’s critical in this code is there are parameters set out relative to what does cage free” mean to each farmer making decisions on how to house their birds and ensure their welfare.
“A sound bite like ‘cage-free’ is easy to put out, but what’s really important is – what is happening with the birds regardless of the system that they’re being housed in?”
Among the 19-member committee steering the layer hen update are Ian J. Duncan, University of Guelph chair in animal welfare, and Penny Lawlis, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs humane standards officer.
“The draft code is a very robust, detailed document,” Wepruk said.
The Farm Animal Care Council is currently seeking public feedback on the draft Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Poultry - Layers. The deadline for comments is Aug. 29.
As of last week, more than 500 submissions have been received, said Wepruk.
Mike Walsh, Gray Ridge Farms executive vice-president, said in a written statement sent by email he’s disappointed by the practices depicted in the Mercy for Animals video and “can say with certainty that what is shown is inconsistent with our high standards for animal care.”
All Gray Ridge employees are trained to provide good care for hens as part of the company’s animal care policy. The company’s “track record through external animal care audits is strong,” he added.
Walsh said Gray Ridge is reviewing its practices “and will take whatever actions are necessary to swiftly and thoroughly address any situation that does not uphold our codes and policies.”
Harry Pelissero, general manager of Egg Farmers of Ontario said on Thursday that the commodity organization has asked the Canadian branch of the Centre for Food Integrity to verify the authenticity of an undercover video shot by an animal welfare group depicting alleged cruelty to hens at a southwestern Ontario egg farm.
Egg Farmers has also asked the centre to determine if the practices seen in the video are considered to be normal for the egg industry, he said.
The Canadian branch of the centre is a division of Farm & Food Care Canada. It works to build public trust and confidence in today’s food system in Canada.
Pelissero said the centre is to establish a three-member panel to review the video.
“It’s not above the activists to stage things or reuse video from other sources,” he said.
As for whether the video will damage Ontario consumer confidence in the egg industry, Pelissero said he didn’t think it would.
It’s the first time the group shot an undercover video at an Ontario egg facility, Hiddema said. During the past 17 years, the group has conducted 50 investigations into farming practices, including 10 in Canada.
Mercy for Animals has operations in Canada, the United States, Brazil, Mexico, China and India and works to prevent cruelty to farm animals, Hiddema explained. Its head office is in Los Angeles, California and the organization has been around for 17 years. It has been operational in Canada for about four years. BF
Thanks to cell-phone cameras and other instant recording devices, the ability of farmers to hide behind the shield of "normal farm practices" is over.
In the same way that on-line viewers can now see a policeman shooting a person through the windshield of his car, animal abuse and even human rights abuses can also be "on-line" for anyone to see, and it is.
Farmers have nowhere to run and nowhere to hide - the employee or contract worker who pretends to speak only Spanish could easily be a University student working undercover for an animal rights or human rights organization and filming every objectionable thing he/she sees. One of my daughter's best friends from undergraduate days did just exactly that for years and may still be doing it.
Farmers have long hidden behind the shield of "we love our animals" and/or "we love our off-shore workers" and videos showing the exact opposite leave us defenseless, and so it should.
Stephen Thompson, Clinton ON
Do you honestly think that farmers are just out to hurt their animals. Looks like people with a lack of common sense are now the prevalent voice for society. Weather it's Donald Trump saying rediculous things that come to his mind or Mercy for Animals making us believe that farmers are a coalition of people out to hurt their own animals. Think, honestly, about all the things that happen in your own work places and in your own lives, look closely, there are many things that can be easily construed as wrong, senseless, and misguided. Unfortunately that is what we humans do. But listen to groups like mercy for animals and Donald Trump: they make it sound like world war three is happenening. Yet when you get away from your media sets you realize that it's still sunny outside, the world is not ending and you are still having a good day. And hopefully you will realize that for farmers it is also a similar day and they are taking care of their animals and at the same time doing their jobs to help stock up grocery stores so that the predictions of Donald Trump or Mercy for animals may never happen.
Jimmy Singh, Ottawa
You can stage any video/action to twist the real facts . As a long time prok producer I belief all producers are much more humane aware now than ever before and really try to do absolutely best for there animals every day. I don't believe in personal,public attacks but Stephen is there anything in animal production,crops,ethanol ,ect. that you approve of-respectfully yours-kg kimball
I fail to see how an undercover video could possibly "twist the true facts" because the true facts are there for everyone to see - there's no possible half truth and it's changed the whole evidentiary process, and it all-too-often shows farmers in a bad light.
We, in agriculture, have long stood on a pedestal to try to persuade people about our "right to farm" and our caring attitudes towards our animals, our workers and whatever else for which we might be criticized.
While many farmers do a great job, it's the ones who don't who give us all a black eye and they are the ones being targeted by undercover groups - and it's not just agriculture. John Stewart used his Daily Show to find video clips of what people said in the past and compared it to what they are saying now, and he did it again last week when he skewered Sean Hannity of Fox News. While Stewart's victims all cry foul, their double standards are presented on video for all to see and farmers should not expect to be treated any differently.
We, in agriculture need to learn that we cannot exist in isolation the way we have in the past and many farmers seem to be unable to deal with this new reality.
Stephen Thompson, Clinton ON
One such real recent example is the Ontario PC's have put out how some one got a hydro bill and did not use any hydro . Truth not told is that there is a base rate/charge to every hydro account every month whether you use hydro or not . If the hydro is hooked up , you get a monthly charge . The $113.00 hydro bill was for a 3 month billing period of the minimum monthly charge . It is not a separate line item on your bill . Do the PC's not know this ? Likely they do but never bothered to disclose that tidbit of information .
So not disputing your comment but with technology today it would be easy to make a video that is less than the real truth . Then add in a voice over commentary and make it sound worse yet . I remember my mother telling me " don't believe most of what you hear and only half of what you see" .
A group like Mercy for Animals has only one objective and that is eliminating livestock/poultry farming. They could probably post an undercover video of insinuated farm abuse every day but they realize the puplic would grow wearing of them rather quickly.After all it can go viral to watch someone break a car window on a hot day to save a dog but 3 or 4 different ones in a week would become saturating!.. So Mercy picks and chooses their spots,you would think if they were so worried about animal abuse they would show as many undercover videos as they could but again.. It's not their prime objective!
The above poster's credibility went into the toilet when proffering the phrase "insinuated farm abuse" as if the abuse caught on film was somehow staged for dramatic excess.
Farmers can be as dismissive as they like, but what's caught on film is the reality of life in 2016, and not just in agriculture.
It really doesn't matter whether eliminating animal agriculture is the objective of Mercy for Animals or whether it's something completely different, the recording of animal abuse speaks for itself and must be addressed.
We, in agriculture, need to present a far-better image than the "shoot-the-messenger" and/or "deny, stall, delay" tactics presented by the above poster.
Stephen Thompson, Clinton ON
well said. i like when someone speaks the truth on here.
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