TORONTO - The office of Manitoba's chief veterinarian said Sunday it has received and 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, Man., 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 piglets being slammed down on the floor by staff.
Mercy For Animals Canada says it was shot between August and September by an undercover investigator at the Puratone facility.
Investigations director Twyla Francois said 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 said meat from the plant is purchased by major grocery chains Sobeys, Loblaws, Metro, and Walmart Canada. It's calling for the stores to ban the purchase of meat from farms that use the metal "gestation" crates.
Twyla 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 that 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 that 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 Monday 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 group was formed earlier this year as a sister organization to the U.S.-based Mercy For Animals, which aims to prevent cruelty to farm animals.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous story wrongly said Mercy for Animals Canada is a branch of the U.S. organization, they are in fact sister organizations