Warning: This story contains details some may find disturbing

An animal rights group is alleging that a B.C. farm labour company committed “egregious acts” of chicken abuse caught on video.

Mercy For Animals has filed a formal complaint with the RCMP, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the BC SPCA, alleging “an ongoing pattern” of animal cruelty by Elite Farm Services Ltd., based in Chilliwack, B.C.

Marcie Moriarty, chief prevention and enforcement officer with the BC SPCA, said the footage shows a range of “appalling acts” including the ripping off of a chicken’s leg, kicking birds into the air and sexually explicit behavior. She said the BC SPCA will recommend criminal charges.

Elite, a licensed farm labour contractor hired by Sofina Foods Inc., sent its chicken catching crew to various broiler chicken farms across the province to load chickens into crates and onto transport trucks, according to the complaint. The chickens were then transported to a Lilydale slaughter plant in Port Coquitlam, B.C. 

Sofina Foods is a major Canadian company that sells much of its chicken under the Lilydale brand and in big grocery stores like Loblaws and Safeway.

Mercy For Animals received information from a whistleblower who worked as a chicken catcher for Elite in May and early June. That person witnessed “a vicious and sadistic pattern of ongoing abuse and neglect” of chickens by various Elite workers and managers, the group alleges.

Krista Hiddema, a Mercy For Animals vice-president, told CTV News that was the group’s 12th hidden camera “expose” in Canada.

She said Elite workers and even some of their supervisors committed “the worst, most sadistic animal abuse that we have ever seen.”

Video footage obtained by CTV News shows a worker pulling a live chicken whose leg was stuck under a crate until the bird’s leg ripped off. Other footage shows workers slamming chickens against crates, and mimicking sex acts with the birds by thrusting into them.

Mercy For Animals’ formal complaint also alleges that a worker slowly pulled a chicken’s wing “until the bird ripped in half, tearing the bird’s flesh and muscles away from the bird’s bones.”

Many chickens were also allegedly tormented, kicked around “like a soccer ball” and tossed through the air.

“When I saw this footage, it’s the first time in my career that I have truly had to stop to take breaks,” Hiddema said. “This is the worst footage I have ever seen. The level of abuse is simply sadistic.”

Mercy For Animals’ complaint includes reports from six veterinary and animal care experts who described the video footage as “the worst kind of deliberate abuse.”

CTV News reached out to Elite Farm Services and offered to show management the video, but they refused.

Elite later issued a statement saying that they are “appalled and sickened by the acts that have been described in the video.”
“Once we see the video, we will take immediate action, including termination of employment,” the statement goes on.

Sofina Foods, meanwhile, called the footage “horrifying” and said it has requested that all of the employees involved be “dismissed immediately.”

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said it received the formal complaint about Elite late Monday afternoon and will review it and “determine next steps by working with other involved agencies (BC SPCA and RCMP).

“The CFIA is strongly committed to ensuring that animals slaughtered for human consumption are treated humanely during transport and slaughter,” the agency said in a statement to CTV News. “The CFIA investigates all allegations of animal mistreatment.”

In a statement to CTV News, Loblaw said it is not directly involved in raising or processing animals.

“We expect our suppliers to ensure animals are treated in accordance with government and industry-accepted guidelines for humane treatment,” Loblaw said. “We have zero tolerance for the mistreatment of animals and will monitor the outcomes of this investigation.”

Factory-farmed animal regulations

Mercy For Animals alleges that Elite employees violated the Canadian Criminal Code, the BC Prevention of Animal Cruelty Act, and other regulations pertaining to factory-farmed animals.

The National Farm Animal Care Council has codes of practice that guide the handling and transportation of animals. One of the many provisions of the code of practice for handling chickens and turkeys states that birds must be handled in a manner that minimizes stress or injury.

In a March press release, Chicken Farmers of Canada slammed Mercy For Animals for using “sensationalized video footage” of chicken production and making accusations “implying that this is representative of Canadian chicken farms.”

At the time, the chair of the chicken farmers’ association said every chicken farm in Canada is subject to “mandatory and audited” animal welfare standards that have “zero tolerance” for abuse.

Lawyer Rebeka Breder, who specializes in animal law, said the codes of practice related to factory-farmed animals are not particularly helpful because they are not incorporated into law.

“What we really need to understand is that these codes of practices, as good as they seem, they’re not law,” Breder told CTV News. “They are essentially voluntary guidelines.”

Breder did note that people can be prosecuted under B.C. animal cruelty legislation if they cause distress or suffering to an animal -- unless that distress is caused by an activity that comes “from a reasonable and generally accepted standard of practice for animal management.” 

She said food companies need to take a stand against animal abuse in the food supply chain and Canadian consumers should do the same.

“It is up to the consumers, at the end of the day, to also make the ethical choices in the food that we all eat.”

With a report from CTV’s B.C. Bureau Chief Melanie Nagy


Statement from Sofina Foods Inc.

Sofina Foods Inc. just reviewed horrifying footage taken with a hidden camera of one of the suppliers that is responsible for catching birds for our processing facilities in British Columbia.

We are appalled and extremely shocked by the video footage we saw of a few of our supplier’s employees displaying disturbing and unacceptable behaviours that Sofina Foods Inc. does not in any way tolerate or condone. Ethical and responsible treatment of animals is of utmost importance to our organization.

We are taking immediate steps with our supplier to initiate a comprehensive investigation of the situation and have engaged internal and external expertise to help us determine proper course of action in line with our animal care commitment and expectations.

Sofina Foods Inc. has already been in touch with the owner of the supplier company and requested that all of the supplier’s employees involved in the abusive behaviours be dismissed immediately. We have also expressed our expectation that all of the supplier’s employees be requalified on the importance of animal care and fully understand the consequences of not following protocols.

Our industry continuously works to enhance animal care practices, including the Poultry Code of Practice and CFIA’s regulations and mandatory protocols. We expect all our suppliers to be in full compliance with all such regulations and protocols at all times.

Sofina Foods Inc. will fully collaborate with all authorities who may want to take action with respect to these behaviours.


Statement from Elite Farm Services Ltd.

Elite Services has been advised of serious cases of animal abuse recorded at multiple farms in BC. We were not aware of the seriousness of the footage and want to ensure that our commitment to the safe handling and care of animals is our greatest priority.

We take the care and handling of animals very seriously. We will not and do not condone animal abuse of any kind and it will not be tolerated.

We are appalled and sickened by the acts that have been described to us in the video.

Once we see the video, we will take immediate action, including termination of employment. We will be conducting an internal investigation of all animal handling techniques and will be developing an enhanced training regime for all employees including a regular audit process to ensure this type of abuse will never happen again.

We will co-operate fully with any government or enforcement authorities to ensure this never happens again.