Workers at B.C. poultry farms have been caught on camera stomping on live chickens and in some instances even ripping conscious birds apart, appalling abuse that animal advocates are calling some of the worst behaviour they've seen in Canada’s food industry. 

The disturbing hidden camera video, which has been obtained by CTV News, was recorded at several different properties in the Fraser Valley by an undercover operative from Mercy for Animals, an international anti-cruelty group.

The whistleblower was hired by Elite Farm Services Ltd. in May to work as a catcher, someone who loads chickens into crates so they can be transported to processing plants.

Over the course of about one month of employment with the company, the individual allegedly witnessed numerous acts of abuse, including chickens being violently slammed against crates and walls, flung into the air, and having their limbs torn from their bodies.

"This is the worst footage I have ever seen. The level of abuse is simply sadistic," said Krista Hiddema, vice president at Mercy for Animals. "We're even seeing workers use birds to mimic sex acts with each other, and force other birds into sex acts."

Hiddema's organization has conducted a dozen other animal abuse exposés in Canada, including a 2014 investigation at Chilliwack Cattle Sales Ltd. that led to cruelty convictions, but she said the latest probe is much more alarming.

CTV News has confirmed the incidents are being investigated by both the B.C. SPCA and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. A complaint has also been filed with the RCMP.

"The CFIA is strongly committed to ensuring that animals slaughtered for human consumption are treated humanely during transport and slaughter," a spokesperson for the federal agency said Monday.

Elite Farm Services is a labour company that's been in business for more than a decade. CTV News reached out to the company for comment Friday and received a written statement back several days later promising an investigation into what happened.

“We will not and do not condone animal abuse of any kind and it will not be tolerated,” director Dwayne Dueck said.

“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.”

The company works directly for Sofina Foods Inc., which sells much of its chicken under the Lilydale brand in major grocery stores including Safeway and Loblaws. Sofina viewed Mercy for Animals’s hidden camera video and described the behaviour as “disturbing” and “unacceptable.”

“[We] have engaged internal and external expertise to help us determine proper course of action in line with our animal care commitment and expectations,” the company said in a statement.

Sofina expects suppliers to comply with Canadian regulations at all times, the company added, and it will be cooperating with any authorities investigating the incidents.

There are a number of industry guidelines and national regulations regarding the care of chickens. Under the National Farm Animal Care Council's code, birds must be "handled in a manner that minimizes stress" while being caught and loaded for transportation.

Rebeka Breder, an expert in animal law, believes the poultry industry must do more to ensure animals are treated humanely, but until they do she said it’s the public’s responsibility to know where their chicken is coming from.

"Not only is it up to the companies to take a stand and say enough is enough… it is up to the consumers at the end of the day to make the ethical choices in the food that we eat," Breder said.

Though the B.C. SPCA's investigation is still underway, the agency told CTV News it intends to recommend criminal charges in the case.

For more information on Mercy for Animals's probe, visit its website

With a report from CTV News’s Melanie Nagy