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Turkey video shows 'culture of cruelty'

Turkey video shows 'culture of cruelty'A Hybrid Turkeys worker beats a turkey with a metal pole in a handout photo, released on Friday March 14, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Mercy For Animals

TORONTO - Disturbing video showing employees of one of the world's leading turkey producers clubbing, kicking and otherwise abusing the hapless birds is evidence of a culture of cruelty and neglect at the factory farm, an animal-rights group said Friday.

The company in question, Hybrid Turkeys, said it had suspended four employees and called the abuse depicted in the video an isolated incident.

The video was shot at a Hybrid plant in Bright, Ont., by a member of the animal rights group, Mercy for Animals Canada.

Footage also shows workers apparently crushing the spines of birds while others are left to die from festering and bloody wounds.

"This investigation graphically illustrates that the hidden price of Canadian turkey meat is horrific animal abuse," said Twyla Francois, a spokeswoman for Mercy For Animals.

"This is blatant animal cruelty that shouldn't be supported in a civilized society."

In anticipation of the video's release, Hybrid said last week that it had taken immediate steps to ensure the ethical treatment of its turkeys.

"Hybrid has zero tolerance for animal abuse," managing director David Libertini said in a statement.

Hybrid, of Kitchener, Ont., said it would co-operate with any investigations into the abuse and had already initiated a third-party review of company policies and procedures.

Helen Wojcinski, the company's science and sustainability manager, said in an interview Friday she was concerned by what she had seen on the video.

"Employees are not using the method of euthanasia that we want them to use," Wojcinski said, noting blunt-force trauma is an approved killing method.

While the employees remain suspended, the company is still waiting to talk to them as part of its investigation because it didn't have the full, unedited video.

"It's trying to get the whole context or perspective," Wojcinski said.

The company also said it would become the first turkey producer in North America to employ mandatory video monitoring and veterinary review of all turkey euthanasia.

Mercy for Animals said national standards across the county need to be tightened to include immediate veterinary care for sick or injured birds.

All facilities that handle farmed animals should install video monitoring and livestream the footage on the Internet, the group said.

The activists also called on the industry to forego some profits by stopping the breeding of turkeys for rapid growth that can leave them crippled under their own weight.

Some of the birds suffer from bone defects, hip-joint lesions, foot and leg deformities, and heart attacks as a result of the unnaturally fast growth, the group said.

However, Wojcinski said the company selected only the "healthiest" birds to ensure a "consistent and secure food supply to people who need to feed their families."

More than 21 million turkeys are raised and killed for food every year in Canada — of which about 60 per cent come from Hybrid. Hendrix Genetics, the parent company of Hybrid Turkeys, is the second largest producer in the world.

Dr. Mike Petrik, a poultry vet based in Guelph, Ont., said the video had been cut to show the situation in the worst possible light and was not representative of the care turkeys receive in Ontario.

"You have to realize the logistics of euthanizing a turkey: they're very big, they're very strong, and it's physically difficult to do, so blunt trauma to the head to render them immediately unconscious is a humane method of euthanasia," said Petrik, who works closely with the industry.

"Having said that, there are things on the video that are abnormal and unacceptable."

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