Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Video raises hog-abuse questions

Shot at Puratone plant by undercover activist

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TORONTO -- The office of Manitoba's chief veterinarian said Sunday it will review footage of the treatment of pigs at a hog farm that has sparked accusations of animal abuse.

Animal health and welfare manager Terry Whiting said video footage taken at a Puratone Corp., farm in Arborg by animal rights group Mercy For Animals Canada was received Friday, but couldn't comment on whether an investigation has been launched.

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 staff slamming piglets down on the floor.

Mercy for Animals Canada says an undercover investigator at the Puratone facility shot it between August and September.

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

"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 the company is "disturbed" by the images he said do not reflect its animal-care rules.

He said an investigation is underway and 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 said major grocery chains Sobeys, Loblaws, Metro and Walmart Canada purchase meat from the plant. It's calling for the stores to ban the purchase of meat from farms that use the metal "gestation" crates.

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.

"I think we're at an interesting turning point where the public is now seeing into the hidden world of factory farming and the public is outraged, and rightly so."

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.

Maple Leaf was not immediately available for comment Sunday but said in a statement on its website it will conduct a "thorough audit" of Puratone's animal-care policies after the purchase is finalized.

The company said the treatment shown in the video does not reflect industry practices and is "not tolerated at Maple Leaf."

Industry group the Canadian Pork Council said in a release Saturday it has asked an independent panel of animal-welfare experts to review the footage.

"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," it stated.

Mercy For Animals Canada has scheduled news conferences today in Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal to release more details on the videos and call for grocery store chains to be more stringent about how they source their meat products.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 10, 2012 A4

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