The Story behind Hybrid Turkeys

Mar 11, 2014

Undercover Video Prompts Turkey Farm to Take Swift Action

By Amanda Brodhagen,

Hybrid Turkeys, a turkey breeding company based in Kitchener, Ont., has taken action ahead of the public release of an animal activist under cover video taken at one of its barns. The company has suspended four employees and will expand its animal welfare program to include video monitoring of all turkey euthanasia.

On March 5, Hybrid Turkey’s released a statement saying that it is taking “immediate action” after company officials viewed an undercover video which depicted employees at one of its barns employing euthanasia methods that were contrary to the company’s animal welfare policies.

The company was contacted on Feb. 21, by an associate producer from CBC’s Marketplace network, who said that they had obtained an undercover video that allegedly showed injured and neglected birds in one of its barns.

According to Helen Wojcinski, Hybrid’s Science and Sustainability Manager, CBC refused to share the video with the company. “Basically they had information that they were not going to share with us,” Wojcinski said in an interview. “We regret that the activist group and CBC did not provide the video to us directly in a timely manner so that quicker action could be taken.”

While the network turned down the company’s request to see the video, Hybrid officials were able to watch the video through an “industry source” that had access.

After the company viewed the activist made video four employees were immediately suspended pending an investigation and Hybrid began a review of how to strengthen their program, including video monitoring of birds being euthanized to ensure it is being done effectively, humanely and according to internal Quality Practices.

“Are there disturbing and graphic images [in the video] – absolutely,” she said. “What they [activist videos] don’t give the viewer is context.” Wojcinski was able to shed some light into the location of where these images of injured birds were taken, adding that the birds were in a recovery pen.

Company officials said they could see the main part of the laying barn where the hens were located, and they could also see pens at the back where the breeder toms are housed. The recovery pen was also in sight.

Birds are put in a recovery pen if they have a minor injury or if another bird was bullying it. “Turkey’s aren’t always friendly towards each other,” said Wojcinski. “Our hope is always that given time and attention, the bird will recover and return to the main flock.”

Then there are situations where birds have to be euthanized.

“Our standard practice is that if a bird is in the flock, and we know right away that bird is never going to recover, we would euthanize it immediately,” she said. “We have strict criteria we use to make the decision whether a bird should be euthanized or not.”

People who don’t work with turkeys on a regular basis wouldn’t necessarily understand the process of euthanizing birds. “They don’t nicely just go to sleep. There’s going to be involuntary reactions like violent wing flapping, which actually indicates that the bird has been effectively euthanized” explains Wojcinski.

Who’s behind the undercover video?

The company’s human resources records revealed that the animal activist in question was an egg gatherer who worked on the farm for eight weeks. The female activist started in early December and then suddenly quit at the end of January citing a family emergency, says Wojcinski.

“She misrepresented herself when she applied for the job,” she said.

It is believed that the activist who shot the video is backed by the animal rights group – Mercy for Animals Canada, the same group that shot the undercover video on a chicken farm in Alberta in Oct. 2013.

“They [animal activists] are professionals in every sense of the word,” adding that activists go through extensive training to get access into farms.  All employees, including this activist, signed the Hybrid Welfare policy acknowledging their responsibility for the welfare of the birds in their care and also to report any acts of animal mistreatment or abuse they witness. Failure to do so will result in suspension, investigation, with the possibility of termination.

Hybrid shows industry leadership

Prior to the creation of the undercover video, Hybrid already had rigorous animal welfare protocols in place, which exceed national standards and regulatory requirements.

Hybrid has committed to doing more research with the world renowned Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare, University of Guelph to scientifically evaluate various methods for on-farm euthanasia to ensure they are humane, meet the veterinary requirements and are safe and acceptable to the operator.

The company said that it has “zero tolerance for animal abuse,” and that it suspended four employees pending a further investigation, which would include seeing the full video. “We can’t comment until we have an opportunity to study the whole video which to date has not occurred,” said Wojcinski.

Hybrid’s future plans include video monitoring of all turkey euthanasia in its barns, making them the first turkey operation to do so in North America.

“We want our barns to be ready not because of cameras but because it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “Animal welfare and well-being is central to the operations of our company and we remain committed to the ethical and responsible care of our turkey flocks.”

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