Hybrid Turkeys pleads guilty to animal cruelty

Hidden camera investigation last year resulted in 11 charges against Hybrid Turkeys over treatment of birds in its care.

Marketplace investigation showed turkeys kicked, beaten with a shovel

Hybrid Turkeys supplies genetic stock that makes up 90 per cent of the turkey eaten in Canada.

A year after CBC's Marketplace first exposed the shocking treatment of birds at an Ontario turkey breeder, the case against the company for animal cruelty has ended in a guilty plea.

Hybrid Turkeys pleaded guilty to one charge of "failing to exercise reasonable care and supervision of the euthanasia of animals," according to the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA), the group which investigates animal cruelty offences in Ontario.

In March 2014, Marketplace revealed hidden camera footage obtained by an animal welfare group that showed birds with large open wounds, an employee advising the undercover worker to kick birds and failed euthanizations.

One euthanization showed an employee hitting a bird repeatedly with several objects, including a shovel, over the course of several minutes, after an initial attempt to use an authorized tool failed.

Kitchener, Ont.-based Hybrid Turkeys supplies genetic stock that makes up 90 per cent of the turkey eaten in Canada. Maple Leaf Foods, one of Canada's largest meat companies, told CBC News it was "very disturbed by the abuse shown" and was taking action, including implementing welfare audits at their supplier.

After the Marketplace story aired, OSPCA laid 11 charges against both the company and individual employees.

"After a thorough investigation it was determined that the method of euthanasia was not humane," OSPCA spokesperson Alison Cross wrote in an email.

The company was fined $5,600. Under the terms of the company's guilty plea, the remaining charges have been withdrawn, according to Cross.

'A slap on the wrist'

Hidden camera footage from an Ontario turkey breeding barn appears to show birds with large open wounds, an employee instructing a worker to kick birds to check for leg injuries and failed euthanizations. (CBC)
According to Mercy for Animals Canada, the group that collected the hidden camera footage, this conviction is the first time a Canadian commercial farm has been found guilty of animal cruelty as a result of undercover footage.

But the organization's Krista Hiddema says the fine doesn't go far enough.

"There's no question that it truly is, from a monetary perspective, nothing more than a slap on the wrist," Hiddema said. "The punishment certainly does not fit the crime."

However, "it does send a clear message to the factory farming industry that animal abuse will not be tolerated," she said. "We really see this as a wakeup call."

Company says steps have been taken

“We feel this is an isolated incident,” Hybrid Turkeys’ Helen Wojcinski said last year. “Employees have been trained. They know what they're supposed to do. There is obviously a lapse. There's been a mistake made here." (CBC)
"We feel this is an isolated incident," Hybrid Turkeys' Helen Wojcinski told Marketplace last year. "Employees have been trained. They know what they're supposed to do. There is obviously a lapse. There's been a mistake made here."

In a statement released this week, the company wrote: "In 2014, when the company was made aware of a situation involving animals in its care, Hybrid Turkeys took immediate action to investigate the incident and the employees involved, while co-operating fully with authorities."

Hybrid did not respond to requests for further comment.