I still had ham and eggs for breakfast this morning even after watching a CTV W-5 expose October 19 on some allegedly poor production practices at an Alberta egg farm.
I did have second thoughts as I reached for those perfect white, healthy, lovingly produced eggs in the fridge. Even as much as I
might know, have seen, and might understand about the realities of animal agriculture, it is still hard to excuse on any level images of dead, sick and disabled chicks, or crowded cages of frightened, half plucked hens, that appear to be roughly handled when it comes time to move them. One of the first paying jobs I had as kid was working a few shifts at an egg barn in Eastern Ontario. The spent hens had to be removed and shipped and then the whole building power washed before the next batch. Not every bird made it out alive.
The video clips supplied to W-5 (www.ctvnews.ca/w5) were captured by an undercover farm worker acting on behalf of Mercy for Animals Canada. It didn’t say how long the worker was on the job, but she was there long enough to get some disturbing images on how both chicks and laying hens are managed purportedly at the Morinville, AB-area Kuku Farms and Creekside Grove Farms which are owned by Amin Valji.
Kuku Farms has 120,000 laying hens and at Creekside Gove they produce about 100,000 chicks.
PERCEPTION IS REALITY
What viewers saw on the show — assuming it was actual footage from the Alberta egg farm — might have been very isolated instances or very rare occurrences of abused and neglected birds and on the other hand it might have been daily routine…Regardless the images are out there. Chicks are right up there with kittens on the cuteness scale, and it doesn’t sit well for most people —consumers and retailers — when the video implies live chicks are in the same garbage bag as dead chicks and they all get tossed in an incinerator…not to mention it is just wrong.
Ian Duncan, an animal welfare specialist at the University of Guelph who helped write the National Farm Council Code of Practice, said he found the handling and care practices shown in the video clips to be “ethically, completely unacceptable.”
And there was plenty of fuel added to the fire. The owner of the facility Amin Valji, who is also on the board of the Alberta Egg Producers refused to talk to the W-5 reporter and referred all questions to the Alberta Egg Producers office in Calgary. And the Alberta Egg Producer staff members, obviously a bit ambushed by the issue appeared to awkwardly dodge questions saying the matter was under investigation. And to ice the cake the Egg Farmers of Canada issued a bio-security email advisory urging all egg farmers in Canada to lock their doors, block their gates and not talk to the media.
VERY TOUGH SITUATION
And I am not sure I would have handled the situation any better if I had been in their shoes. A TV crew walks into your office with some disturbing animal abuse videos and what the hell do you say on the spot? Denying it wouldn’t help. You could say, “oh we’ve had problems with this producer before, thanks for information, we’ll shut him down, tomorrow”….that’s not an option until you know more about the situation. It is a tough one. But as the egg guys probably will say, nothing really prepares you for this. The beef industry dealt with some version of this in May 20, 2003 when the first case of BSE was discovered. What do you say? I didn’t see that coming!
I am not sure if the Egg Farmers of Canada should have issued the bio-security lockdown advisory. It sounds like they were dealing with a terrorist attack. It was a real CYA (cover your butt) move, which suggests the industry is hiding something rather than openly dealing with the issue.
Another damning moment was Ian Duncan explaining that the industry is self-regulating, self-policing. The undercover worker says one day the farm received advanced notice an inspector was coming and ordered everything be cleaned up before the inspection. All looked good the day of the inspection. This is a little different than learning Aunt Tilley is coming for a visit so you tidy up a messy kitchen. Why does a farm get advance notice of an inspection? Can the industry police itself?
FREE RANGE IS THE FIX – RIGHT!
The broadcast pointed out the horrors of battery-caged chickens for egg production and of course also showed the bucolic contrasting images of a few free range Rhode Island red chickens scratching around in a grassy farm yard as being a much better way to produce eggs. Well I would like to see a farm yard with 120,000 laying hens enjoying a “dust bath” on a cold, wet November day. That system has its limitations too.
I believe egg producers in Canada probably all strive to do the best job they can, and apply as many safe and humane handling practices as is possible. I don’t know Amin Valji. He might be the best, most caring egg producer in the country.
W-5 didn’t do a bad job. The report was a bit sensational, but it exposed just how vulnerable the animal agriculture industry is. There is really no room for nudge, nudge, wink, wink, production practices. You don’t know who, when, or where someone is watching. It is fine for me to sit here after a big breakfast and say the industry needs to do a better job. But something needs to change.
And it isn’t about better security to make sure no one sees how the industry “really” works. Rather than locking the doors and blocking the gates all sectors of the industry need to insure there is nothing going on inside barns, in corrals, or pastures that people can’t see, that isn’t defensible.
But that takes will, no doubt money, and it takes time to make changes, but they need to be made. And don’t follow my example. I remember someone telling me once “if you are doing something you don’t want your wife to know about perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it.” And 38 years later let’s just say I’m making progress, it is not perfection.
Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]