Lilydale has plants in Edmonton, Calgary, Abbotsford and Port Coquitlam, B.C., and Wynyard, Sask. (CBC)

One of Canada's largest poultry producers is accused of causing its chickens undue pain and suffering by transporting them during a cold snap in B.C. in 2012.

Lawyers representing Lilydale Inc. appeared in Provincial Court in Port Coquitlam, B.C., Wednesday to face four charges under the Health of Animals and Meat Inspection Acts.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency claims Lilydale exposed the birds to freezing weather in Jan. 18, 2012. On that day records show it was an unusually cold, –12 C in the Fraser Valley with a wind chill factor of –20.

According to court documents, Lilydale moved the chickens from Chilliwack to Port Coquitlam, exposing them to cold, pain and avoidable distress.

A company spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

More humane regulations sought

BC SPCA spokesman Geoff Urton says investigations are triggered by unusually high death rates like chickens arriving frozen or suffocating from poor ventilation.

Urton says Canada has antiquated regulations governing the transportation of farm animals, and that's why his organization is calling for more humane rules.

"When something like this happens I think people are generally alarmed to hear that its quite common for animals to die during transport, and that someone would choose to transport these animals on an extremely cold day at –12 C when they should have known that it would cause them to suffer," said Upton.

"Just because we eat animals doesn't mean that it is ethical for us to allow them to suffer."

The CFIA website lists Lilydale as a repeat animal transportation violator, fined five times previously, but Urton says charges are actually very rare.

With files from Jason Proctor