Disturbing video prompts investigations into Fraser Valley chicken farms
Warning: Details in this article and the attached video are disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.
Disturbing videos captured inside egg farms in B.C.'s Fraser Valley are raising concerns about animal cruelty.
CTV News has obtained the exclusive videos, which have triggered investigations by the egg industry and animal protection officers.
One of the clips, captured in April inside a barn in Abbotsford, shows chickens buried in piles of manure.
"There were birds dead and dying, left to either drown in their own excrement or die of thirst and starvation," said Jeff Rigear, one of the people behind the videos.
Rigear is a former undercover investigator with animal rights group Mercy For Animals, and has worked in farms and slaughterhouses across Canada.
"We know that animals are suffering immeasurably. This is an industry that survives by keeping people in the dark," he said.
"In order for us to have a meaningful discourse on this issue, the public needs to see what's happening on industrial farms."
CTV has confirmed the SPCA paid a visit to the farm, Jaedel Enterprises, and that there is an open investigation.
Video the activists say was taken at other Abbotsford properties shows a number of dead chickens in cages with live birds, and many carcasses lining manure pits under the cages.
Rigear believes one of the birds in the video has a condition known as prolapse, which requires veterinary care. Other experts have said evidence of prolapse is not conclusive from the video.
"To me, there is no question that there's cruelty involved here," said lawyer Rebeka Breder after viewing the videos she called hard to watch.
"When you have chickens that are stuck in their feces up to their necks and they can't breathe and they can't move and they're stuck for a significant period of time while many others around them are dying, that's cruelty."
Breder, whose firm works on advancing the rights and welfare of domestic and wild animals, says there are codes of practice for the industry when it comes to caring for laying hens.
"All chickens should be housed in a way that minimizes injury. Their water and food should be maintained properly. Their bedding and litter should be maintained properly. The temperature, ventilation, air quality, all of that has to be maintained properly," she said.
But the codes of practice, which she called better than nothing, are merely guidelines or recommendations. They aren't laws, and there is no enforcement from independent bodies except in cases where the SPCA is involved.
"Until the time comes when those codes of practice are actually part of the law, animal cruelty in these kinds of instances will unfortunately continue," she said.
Breder said other videos released to the media of the conditions at other farms have raised public awareness, but did not bring any sweeping changes.
"It's not to say that every single poultry farmer or every single farmer out there is like this. They're not, and there are good farmers out there. However, what people don't realize is that the vast majority of the animals that we consume here in British Columbia and across the country, are treated in ways that are completely inhumane," she said.
CTV reached out to Jaedel Enterprises, and the calls were returned by the BC Egg Marketing Board.
"We expect more of our producers than what we saw in the video and we hold them to high standards," executive director Katie Lowe said.
She said the board is committed to making sure producers follow industry codes. Inspectors have been sent to the farms, which the board says have undergone a full animal care audit and third-party audit.
"We want to make sure we get them back into compliance as soon as possible," Lowe said.
Scott Janzen runs a farm with a good record. He said the videos, which he called upsetting, don't represent the industry as a whole.
"It's not a typical thing we would see in B.C., and we by no means condone that. It's unacceptable."
Janzen said industry regulations dictate farmers should go through barns several times a day looking for dead chickens, and that if medical treatment is required, a veterinarian would be brought in.
He said farms are audited multiple times through the year, and if a producer isn't following the guidelines, corrective actions are completed within 24 hours. Those who don't comply can lose their licence.
When the videos were being shot, Rigear said he took some of the birds he thought were suffering.
He said some of the hens had to be euthanized, but he's caring for others and they're doing well. Some just needed food, water and some space, Rigear said.
"I hope people will become more aware of how animals are made to suffer in these industries and will want to withdraw their support," he said.
"We grew up in a culture where treating animals as commodities is normalized, and even on the best farms in the country, we do things to hens and other animals that we wouldn't dream of doing to our cats or dogs, never mind other human beings."
Rigear said he hopes people consider no longer relying on animals for food.
He shared the videos with CTV in hopes that they'll reach a wider audience. They have also been shared with animal rights group PETA.
Tonight on CTV News at Six, we reveal disturbing undercover video captured inside Fraser Valley egg farms. pic.twitter.com/UDBNxrdsuy— CTV Vancouver (@CTVVancouver) June 25, 2018