Hutterite company fined for unfit turkeys

A business owned by a Manitoba Hutterite colony has been fined for selling thousands of turkeys deemed not fit for human consumption.
The Hutterite colony was forced to fork over $10,000 in fines - negating the profit it made by reselling turkeys not fit for human consumption. ((Canadian Press))
A business owned by a Manitoba Hutterite colony has been fined for selling thousands of turkeys deemed not fit for human consumption.

Hazelridge-based Heartland Colony Farms Ltd. recently pleaded guilty to a charge under the federal Meat Inspection Act in a Winnipeg courtroom and was handed a $10,000 fine.

"There are very much public safety concerns here," provincial court Judge Sid Lerner said, adding the company showed "negligent conduct" in how it allowed the roughly 13,154 kilograms of frozen turkey carcasses to be re-introduced into the food chain.

According to the facts of the case presented by federal Crown attorney Jeremy Akerstream, the colony purchased the turkeys "sight unseen" for $16,000 in 2007 after a truck ferrying them from a British Columbia plant crashed on an Alberta highway.

They were transferred from the crashed truck to two others, meaning the turkeys were no longer fit for human consumption unless they were reinspected under federally-approved guidelines, Akerstream said.

The turkeys, which were the property of an unidentified major meat processing company, were then sold in a salvage deal to the Manitoba colony.

Complaint over label triggered investigation

The colony took possession of the birds and had them repackaged into clear plastic bags. They then sold and shipped the majority to a man in Guelph, Ont. for about $27,000.

In turn, he passed on the turkeys to minor hockey league clubs in Aurora and Markham, as well as to a business, the prosecutor said.

"I won't say sold because they were actually utilized as a fundraiser for minor hockey league teams, as well as employee bonuses and pre-Christmas fundraising activities," Akerstream said.

A person who received one of the frozen birds complained to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) about the lack of labeling or other information on the packaging and an investigation was launched.

There were no illnesses reported as a result of the birds being back in the food chain, Akerstream said.

The investigation took inspectors to the Manitoba colony, where they learned members had eaten some of the turkeys themselves.

'Complete and utter shock'

In one interview, a company officials said, "he didn't know what the big deal was, he had eaten some of the turkeys and no one got sick," Akerstream said.

When the charge was laid, many on the colony reacted with "complete and utter shock," said defence lawyer Jamie Kagan, who represented the company in court.

"This has become a very, very expensive mistake from their perspective," he said.

Defence lawyer Jamie Kagan told Lerner the company had no idea the turkeys needed to be inspected again. ((
"They certainly, to this day, feel that there was nothing wrong with the turkeys," Kagan said, adding company officials weren't aware the fowl needed to be re-inspected properly if they were to be returned to the human food chain.

Lerner responded by saying he found the company's excuse of ignorance "very disturbing."

"A company … that's involved in this kind of salvage to not be aware of the [CFIA], and of the requirements under the relevant legislation is very disturbing," he said.

In an odd twist, the CFIA filed a victim impact statement read aloud in court. It stated the company has a duty to ensure Canadians had safe food to eat.

"One is always mindful of the number of cases that … had listeriosis or other types of bacterial outbreaks," Akerstream said. "In some cases very extreme, obviously, resulting in death or serious illnesses."