News / Kitchener

Four suspended after video shows workers bludgeoning turkeys with shovel

KITCHENER — A Kitchener-based turkey producer suspended four employees after undercover video showed them using blunt force trauma — including a shovel — to euthanize birds.

Mercy For Animals Canada, a non-profit animal rights group, shot the seven-minute video at a Kitchener-area Hybrid Turkeys barn.

"Hybrid has zero tolerance for animal abuse," said David Libertini, managing director of Hybrid Turkeys. "As soon as we reviewed the video, we suspended the four employees involved.

"We are conducting an independent, third-party investigation to review the incident as well as our company's animal welfare program, training and quality practices."

Hybrid's policy for euthanasia for sick turkeys is to use a metal tool to quickly sever the spinal cord from the brain stem. The video shows improper use of the tool.

"They actually used this tool to hit the turkey on the top of the head to destroy the brain," said Helen Wojcinski, manager of science and sustainability for Hybrid Turkeys.

The video also shows an employee using a shovel.

"The person took the shovel and hit the turkey on top of the head," Wojcinski said.

"I could fully understand how some people would find the images very difficult to look at."

Wojcinski said the video was shot by a Mercy For Animals staffer who got a job as an egg gatherer at a Hybrid barn. "She misrepresented herself," Wojcinski said.

She said the video shows two sick turkeys, each weighing about 30 kilograms, being killed. She would not give the exact location of the barn. Hybrid has 200 employees, 50 barns and 11 farms.

Hybrid has strict official guidelines for employees: "Turkeys will be treated with respect and dignity throughout their lives and, when necessary, provided a humane death, under the proper authorization and utilizing approved methods. Mistreatment, abuse or violence toward our turkeys will not be tolerated and will result in termination of employment. These acts may also lead to charges being laid under the Criminal Code of Canada for cruelty to animals."

In response to the video, Hybrid vows to become the first turkey producer in North America to use mandatory video monitoring and veterinary review of all turkey euthanasia. Hybrid will also work with the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare at the University of Guelph to find more effective and humane forms of euthanasia.

"We want to be transparent," Wojcinski said. "If there was a lapse … even that's too much and we want to address it."

The four were good employees until this, she said.

"They weren't as good as we expected them to be," Wojcinski said.

"We need to find out what was going on, give them the opportunity to explain. Perhaps there is a reasonable explanation. It's like with a lot of things … was it a malicious act or something that just happened in the moment? They didn't take joy in doing this."

The video apparently is not on the internet. Wojcinski said CBC has a copy and apparently will be airing it as part of a Marketplace segment. Wojcinski also said the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has seen the video.

Mercy For Animals Canada declined to comment.

"Unfortunately, at this time we are working with law enforcement regarding certain matters and are not in a position to speak to the press," Krista Osborne, director of operations for Mercy For Animals Canada, said in an email. She added that the organization will be holding a news conference on the issue soon.

The industry group Turkey Farmers of Canada said in a statement on their website: "the respectful treatment and welfare of turkeys is a top priority. … The recent video footage of a turkey operation in Ontario is a concerning, yet isolated, incident. We commend Hybrid Turkeys for taking action by implementing corrective and additional measures and initiating an independent investigation."

More on