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Calls for B.C. slaughterhouse to be shut down after cruelty investigation launched

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WARNING: The details and images associated with this story may be disturbing to some readers and viewers.

Secretly shot video inside a B.C. slaughterhouse that is now the focus of an animal cruelty investigation has prompted protest in Vancouver.

Demonstrators chanted "there's no excuse for abuse" and held signs with grim images taken from the footage.

The protesters gathered on a quiet street across from a local supermarket. The store was targeted because it had carried products processed by Meadow Valley Meats, the subject of the investigation.

On Wednesday, Animal Justice, a national animal advocacy group, filed a legal complaint against the company. The organization alleges staff at its facility were "forcefully hitting and kicking" cows, sheep and goats before leading the animals to slaughter. It also claims workers used improper slaughter techniques that could contravene Canadian regulations governing slaughterhouses.

"We see animals handled roughly in a variety of respects, including electric prods used on their face, which the regulations are just crystal clear in that you are not allowed to do that at the time of slaughter." Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice, told CTV National News.

One of the three agencies the group sent their brief to was the BC SPCA. It is now conducting its own investigation into the allegations against the slaughterhouse.

"I can tell you that the videos are very disturbing," BC SPCA's senior protection officer Eileen Drever told CTV News Channel. "It's heartbreaking."

Drever, who has been working in animal cruelty prevention for decades, is part of a team tasked with reviewing the video to assess if there are any violations.

"We received quite a bit of video tape which was absolutely horrific," she said. "These animals are sentient beings, and yes they are suffering physically but also psychologically, and this is something the BC SPCA will be looking into."

Due to the potential legal ramifications, Drever could not provide further details as to how the investigation will be conducted.

"We do not want to jeopardize any part of this investigation, but I can say that these animals have given their lives to us and we need to treat them with dignity when it comes to the end of their life."

The B.C. government is also reviewing the video, which Animal Justice says was shot last summer but was only submitted to them in January.

"It is troubling anytime we hear stories of animal abuse," B.C. Minister of Agriculture and Food Pam Alexis said. "I can assure you we are looking into the situation."

The slaughterhouse is provincially licenced. When asked if she would pull or pause the company's certification while an investigation is underway, Alexis said she could not "determine that at this point".

On its website, Meadow Valley says it's B.C.'s "largest processor of beef, veal, lambs and goats." While most of the company's operations are in Chilliwack, B.C., the facility where the video was shot is in the city of Pitt Meadows.

Throughout the footage, various farm animals can be seen in two different locations. In one area, sheep are crammed into a pen and hit with a paddle. Workers also appear to grab them by the neck and throw them to the ground.

Cows are also seen being slapped with a cane and struck in the face with an electric prod.

The video also shows two children standing in front a man carrying documents. While one child holds onto a fence and the other kneels on a ledge, they both watch what looks like a cow convulsing on the floor.

CTV National News visited the Meadow Valley slaughterhouse, but no one onsite would answer questions about the allegations.

After several phone calls, and texts to the company's general manager, a brief written statement saying it is aware of what it calls "covertly obtained video."

"The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and BC Meat Inspection are reviewing the footage. We will wait to hear from them to determine if any actions are required at our facility, and are fully co-operating in this investigation," the company said.

Meadow Valley Meats slaughters animals from farms across B.C. Once the animal is killed, the business processes the product so it is ready for sale.

Several ranches that rely on Meadow Valley for processing, such as 63 Acres Premium BC Beef, say they are dedicated to humane animal treatment. However, when asked about the current investigation, no response was given by deadline.

There are provincial and federal laws protecting agriculture animals while they are on farms, in transport and when they are to be slaughtered.

"The health and welfare of animals is important to Canadians and all levels of government are committed to safeguarding it," Canada's Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau said.

Bibeau also said "animal abuse must not be tolerated" and confirmed the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is reviewing the footage "for potential non-compliances."

Several animal welfare experts have also watched the video.

Moira Harris, a globally recognized expert, has expressed concerns.

"When handling animals, you need to take into account the sensory capabilities of the animals," she told CTV National News. "I did see workers struggling to move animals and it appears the facility is not set up in a way that allows for easy, gentle movement."

While she points to several possible problems, Harris flagged a portion of tape showing sheep being dragged to slaughter by workers.

"If an animal is sick, you don't necessarily know what's wrong with it, so you don't want an animal which is visibly impaired going into the food chain."

Regulations say animals have to be screened for any issues before being killed.

The CFIA, which is dedicated to safeguarding food, said in a written statement that if "incidents" falling under its responsibility are identified then "appropriate follow-up actions will be taken."

However, the agency also said since Meadow Valley Meats falls under provincial jurisdiction it is the B.C. government that must "assess compliance and food safety risks."

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