Investigations Underway after Arborg Abuse Accusations

12 December 2012, at 11:52pm

CANADA - Investigations have been set up following an undercover video showing alleged abuse was released by an animal rights organisation.

The office of Manitoba's chief veterinarian has said it has received and will review footage of the treatment of pigs at a farm that has sparked accusations of animal abuse, reports Huffington Post.

Animal Health and Welfare Manager, Terry Whiting, confirmed that video footage taken at a Puratone Corp. farm in Arborg, Manitoba, by animal rights group, Mercy For Animals Canada, had been received.

The footage, released online and to CTV's 'W5', shows pigs bleeding from open wounds in tight metal cages, pregnant pigs with distended, inflamed bellies and piglets being slammed down on the floor by staff.

Mercy For Animals Canada was formed earlier this year as a sister organisation to the US-based Mercy For Animals, which aims to prevent cruelty to farm animals. The Canadian organisation says the video was shot between August and September by an undercover investigator at the Puratone facility.

Investigations director, Twyla Francois, told the newspaper that the footage was recorded with a pinhole camera worn by an activist who was hired as an animal care technician by Puratone after applying to several Manitoba pig farms selected at random.

"Our investigator purely went in as the eyes and ears. He just recorded what he saw each day, and footage doesn't lie," she said.

Puratone CEO, Ray Hildebrand, said in a statement that the company is "disturbed" by the images which he said do not reflect its animal care rules.

He said an investigation is underway and that there will be "corrective actions" taken as a result of the video.

"The vast majority of our people respect the animals under their care and follow good stewardship practices. We require all staff to adhere to animal welfare policies and nothing else will be tolerated," he said.

The advocacy group told Huffington Post that meat from the plant is purchased by major grocery chains Sobeys, Loblaws, Metro and Walmart Canada. It is calling for the stores to ban the purchase of meat from farms that use the metal "gestation" crates.

Ms Francois said the group has sent a legal petition to Manitoba's top veterinarian, alleging the footage shows the farm violates the province's animal welfare law.

"Although these are standard practices (in the industry), they do cause unnecessary suffering. We believe that we have grounds for the Office of the Chief Veterinarian to act," she said.

Ms Francois said the group's investigator recorded auditors from Maple Leaf Foods Inc. - which is in the process of buying Puratone - touring the facility as the alleged mistreatment was occurring.

"They saw all this so they clearly did tolerate it and they were aware of it," she alleged to Huffington Post.

In a statement on its web site, Maple Leaf Foods says it is deeply committed to the safe and humane treatment of animals within its care.

The company says it does not tolerate animal mistreatment of any kind. It is aware of a video that was taken by an animal activist group at Puratone – a hog production company in Manitoba. The video shows treatment of animals that is disturbing, portraying this treatment as accepted industry practices. They are not, and they are not tolerated at Maple Leaf.

In November 2012, Maple Leaf entered into an agreement to acquire Puratone, which has not yet closed. When it does we will conduct a thorough audit of Puratone's animal welfare practices. They will be required to adhere to Maple Leaf's strict animal welfare policies and procedures. The company also expects to make investments in these facilities to ensure they meet its standards.

"Our people show respect for the animals under their care. They care for their needs and always minimize any pain or suffering. Our requirements meet or exceed industry and regulatory standards and must be strictly followed. We have a zero tolerance policy for animal abuse of any kind," concludes the Maple Leaf statement.

Industry group, the Canadian Pork Council (CPC), has said that it has asked an independent panel of animal welfare experts to review the footage.

CPC says that the Centre for Food Integrity has released its report on undercover video footage taken in a Manitoba hog barn this past summer and fall.

As the national association representing Canadian hog farmers, CPC proactively requested CFI initiate their Animal Care Review Panel process, which engages recognised animal care specialists to examine undercover videos and provide expert perspectives and balanced analysis for food retailers, the pork industry and the media.

The Animal Care Review Panel operates independently from pork industry influence to assure maximum credibility. CFI’s role is strictly to facilitate the process, not influence the opinions of the panelists. The reviews, assessments, recommendations and reports of the Panel are not subject to industry approval before being shared with the public.

The report is available online [click here].

The Canadian Pork Council says it will review the report shortly. It is committed to quickly determining a process to address their findings and take what steps are necessary to ensure humane treatment of all animals on Canadian hog farms.

"We will keep our stakeholders – from farmers to consumers – informed and updated in a timely manner," concludes the CPC statement.

"As soon as we have their input, we will determine what steps are necessary to ensure humane treatment of animals on Canadian hog farms remains the norm," the CPC statement concluded.

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