Animal rights campaigners are calling for improved treatment for baby calves after releasing an undercover video that shows the animals being kicked and punched, and detained in confining crates with little room to move at a Quebec-based veal producer.

Mercy For Animals Canada said its undercover investigator recorded the brutal treatment of veal calves over an eight-week period at a Délimax Veal-affiliated farm in Pont-Rouge.

The video shows farm employees kicking, punching and force-feeding milk to baby calves. One sick calf is shown bleeding profusely from a shotgun wound to the head after an attempt at euthanasia failed. It is finally killed by a second rifle shot.

Animals are also shown chained by the neck and confined in crates that are too small for them to turn around in. One calf is collapsed with a hind leg caught in the wooden slats of the crate’s floor.

In interviews with Radio-Canada and CBC, Délimax spokesman André Blais said the actions in the video are "unacceptable" and distanced Délimax from the farm in question, saying it was not one of the company's farms but rather a client-farm that Délimax provided with food and services. 

"It's isolated behaviour from bad human beings," Blais said.

He said the people responsible for the abuse left the farm about two months ago.

Blais said all of Délimax's farms conform with current rules and industry standards for the treatment of animals. Any cow being readied for human consumption, he said, must pass inspection. 

"Our production depends on the health of these animals," said Blais.

Mercy For Animals Canada has now lodged a complaint with Montreal's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. 

The animal rights group wants the SPCA to pursue animal cruelty charges against the veal producer in the video.

An SPCA official confirmed that the organization is investigating the actions shown in the video, but said no details about the case would be discussed until later this week.

Mercy For Animals Canada is also calling on the Retail Council of Canada to implement a new policy that would prevent veal raised in confinement crates from being sold by its member grocers. The group says grocers including Costco, Metro, Sobeys and Loblaw already have such a policy in place.

Twyla Francis, Mercy For Animals’ director of investigations, said in a news release that the time has come to end the “misery, violence and deprivation” that characterizes the short lives of baby calves raised for veal.

“Common sense tells us that animals with legs should be given at least enough room to walk and exercise,” she said. “It’s time for the Retail Council of Canada to take a stand against this horrific animal abuse by ending the use of inherently cruel veal crates by its member supply chains.”

Bovine producers condemn acts in video

Quebec's bovine producers federation condemned the acts in the video and said they are not typical of veal producers as a whole in Quebec. 

"This is an isolated incident. The majority of producers respect professional standards," said Jean-Philippe Deschênes-Gilbert, the federation's general manager.

He said the actions captured in the undercover video were those of a few employees.

Deschênes-Gilbert also said this is the first time he's heard any complaints against Délimax.

The confinement crates shown in the videos will be phased out by 2018 in favour of collective pens that will allow calves to socialize and move around, he said.

Retail Council of Canada responds

Nathalie St-Pierre, vice-president of the Retail Council of Canada's Quebec branch, called the actions in the video "unacceptable" and said they were isolated acts of individuals who no longer work at the farm in question.

She said the Retail Council of Canada is satisfied with the federation's voluntary move to phase out confinement crates by 2018. 

"We applaud what the veal industry has done and we think that is enough," St-Pierre said.

She said the time lag is inevitable given the investments and modifications that will have to take place at Quebec's 165 veal farms, where individual crates are in use at many.

She said the Retail Council of Canada will be working closely with veal producers over the next four years. 

"We will see in 2018 where we are at," St-Pierre said.