Hundreds of hens die in egg-farm raid in Ontario

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Egg Marketing Board raided a farm on March 23, owned by Shawn Carmichael in Spencerville, Ontario. Mr. Carmichael is accused of being in illegal possession of laying hens, failing to pay licensing fees, and selling ungraded eggs.

Regardless of the merits of the case, accounts by witnesses and photos taken at the scene (available on the Internet and shown on local TV), provide compelling evidence the actions of the agencies deserve investigation. Hens should not be punished for their owner's unproven violation of regulations.

Harry Pellisero, spokesperson for the Egg Farmers of Ontario, claimed the wheeled cages into which the hens were packed were standard means of transport, the birds were packed according to accepted standards, and his trained field staff know how to handle birds.

But he did not address comments by witnesses who said each cage was packed with far more hens than it was designed to hold. The hens were tightly confined, many with legs and wings pushing through the wire mesh of the cages. The cages were then stacked in a tractor-trailer and left there for hours; the panelled sides were not opened for ventilation, despite repeated requests by Mr. Carmichael.

"Hundreds and hundreds died before they even finished loading the chickens into the trailer," Randy Hillier, Ontario Landowners Association president, said. "Hundreds more had broken legs, broken wings." Despite attempts to blame the protesters for the deaths and injuries, Hillier noted the damage was done well before agency officials were ready to leave with the birds they intended to confiscate.

When the hens were finally off-loaded at 4.30pm, many were dead or dying from injury, stress, heat and dehydration. Protesters at the scene complained about the cramped conditions of the hens and suggested the treatment was inhumane, and worthy of attention by the humane society. Protestors have since requested the OPP investigate the actions of the CFIA and Egg Farmers' marketing board, and find out why the OSPCA did not respond to calls on the day of the raid. None of the two dozen OPP officers, on site at the time, intervened to end the abuse.

By midday March 24, Mr. Carmichael had found 300 dead birds, and feared the toll would rise over the next two weeks, due to the stress the birds had experienced. "Whenever you disturb their environment or habitat, they go into a tailspin," he said. "I expect to see heavy mortality for the next seven days. After seven days, it will slowly back off until you get maybe two or three a day."

The death toll had climbed to about 800 chickens by April 5.

Sources: CKWS-TV, Brockville Recorder & Times (Nick Gardiner, Derek Abma, Michael Jiggins)
Ottawa Citizen (Zev Singer, Vito Pilieci), Ottawa Sun (Tom VanDusen)