VANCOUVER - An animal rights organization is urging McDonald's Canada to take a firm stand against what it calls "shocking animal cruelty" captured on a graphic video it says was taken at two Alberta farms.

McDonald's, for its part, says it gets no eggs from those farms.

The hidden-camera video filmed by Mercy for Animals Canada aired on the CTV show W5 last week. It shows hens crowded in battery cages, and chicks being violently smashed by workers and thrown into garbage bags.

"They're so crammed inside those cages they can't spread their wings, they can't walk, they can't turn around, they can't engage in any of their natural behaviour," said Stephane Perrais, director of operations with Mercy For Animals Canada.

"They spend one year of their miserable life in there, basically producing eggs and after that time period, they're considered spent by the industry because their productivity is declined, and then they're slaughtered."

The group says the footage was taken by an undercover investigator who was hired as a farm worker by Ku-Ku Farms and Creekside Grove Farms for 10 weeks in May.

The video also shows dead hens rotting in the cages, and chicks being covered in feces.

Mercy For Animals Canada says Creekside Grove Farms provides chicks to Ku-Ku Farms near Edmonton. Ku-Ku then supplies eggs to Ontario-based Burnbrae Farms, the primary egg supplier to McDonald's Canada.

McDonald's, however, says while it does get eggs from Burnbrae along with many other Canadian companies, it says its eggs do not come from the farms referenced in the W5 story and that "we source no eggs from the province of Alberta."

Photos on the Mercy For Animals Canada website indicate eggs in trays with packing labels that show the eggs come from Ku-Ku Farms and are destined for Burnbrae Farms.

While Perrais said the provocative video does not address the quality of the eggs or food safety, his organization is calling for McDonald's to ban its egg suppliers from using hens that are confined in battery cages, which are barely bigger than the hens and prevent them from freely moving about.

A statement said McDonald's said it does not condone animal abuse by its suppliers.

"We care about the humane treatment of animals and believe they should be free from cruelty, abuse and neglect," said spokeswoman Karin Campbell in the written statement emailed to The Canadian Press.

"Abuse is never tolerated in our supply chain and McDonald’s has strict policies in place concerning the treatment of animals that our suppliers must adhere to at all times. We also work with our suppliers and outside experts to continuously improve our standards and practices, both within McDonald’s and across the industry."

Egg Farmers of Canada, a non-profit organization that inspects egg producers across the country, said it has watched the W5 segment, and that what was aired was an "aberration" from normal practices.

"What we did see, and what I was exposed to on W5, was certainly very alarming and disappointing to me as an egg producer," said chairman Peter Clarke in a phone interview.

"I can tell you categorically that that activity that was shown in that video in regards to such things as how birds were being handled, how chicks were being disposed of…is something that does not go on in egg farms across this country."

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  • In an industrial egg-producing facility, about half of the chicks will be male and would grow up to be roosters, which do not lay eggs and therefore provide no incentive for the breeder to preserve. Most of the male chicks are usually killed shortly after being sexed.

  • A typical cage is about the size of a filing cabinet drawer and holds eight to 10 hens.

  • The young piglets stay with their mothers for two to three weeks, after which their teeth are clipped, tails cut and the males are castrated – all without anaesthetic, according to the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals. "The piglets are taken away to be fattened in nursery pens on concrete floors, then to “grower” pens, and finally to “finisher” pens until they reach slaughter weight of 250 pounds at six months old," the CCFA adds.

  • The CCFA says pigs may be legally transported in Canada without water, food or rest, for 36 hours. Photo: Pigs from Manitoba destined for Mexico died enroute in Texas after being left for days in a transport trailer without water in temperatures of over 90 degrees Farenheit.

  • The Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals estimates that 98 per cent of Canada's 26 million egg-laying hens are kept in small, crammed "battery cages." Pictured here is a feces-covered hen at an Ontario egg farm.

  • Each bird has less space than a sheet of notebook paper, according to the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals.

  • Unlike free range hens pictured here, hens in cages are not able to perform natural behaviours such as nesting, perching, dust-bathing and stretching a wing or walking around.

  • Out of the 30 million pigs produced every year in Canada for slaughter, most are born to sows who are kept in two-feet-wide metal gestation crates, where they are unable to even turn around during their four-month pregnancy, says the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals.

  • The European Union banned battery cages as of January 1, 2012. Photo: Former battery hens roost in the barn of their new home.

  • Early battery cages were often used for selecting hens based on performance since it is easy to track how many eggs each hen is laying if only one hen is placed in a cage. Later, this was combined with artificial insemination, giving a technique where each egg's parentage is known. This method is still used today.

  • The passage of California Proposition 2 in 2008 aimed to reduce or eliminate problems associated with battery cages. A standard for space relative to free movement and wingspan was set, rather than cage size.

  • Spatial restriction can lead to a wide range of abnormal behaviours, some of which are injurious to the hens or their cagemates.

  • Being indoors, hens in battery cages do not see sunlight. While there is no scientific evidence for this being a welfare problem, some animal advocates indicate it is a concern.

  • According to World's Poultry Science Journal, flocks are sometimes force molted, rather than being slaughtered, to reinvigorate egg-laying. This involves complete withdrawal of food (and sometimes water) for 7 to 14 days or sufficiently long to cause a body weight loss of 25 to 35%

Clarke said Egg Farmers of Canada inspects farms regularly to make sure producers are adhering to the industry's code of practice, but the inspections don't "necessarily ever prevent something as graphic and as disappointing as this taking place."

Egg Farmers of Canada is investigating Mercy for Animal Canada's video to make sure it is authentic, Clarke said.

It has also launched an investigation of the two Alberta farms, and has contacted a U.S. agency called the Centre of Food Integrity to recommend any potential action.

"What you see in that video is an aberration from our normal practices," said Egg Farmers of Canada CEO Tim Lambert.

"It's not acceptable to our industry and to our farmers, and if there are things on there that are authenticated as we do our investigation, they will be corrected."

The owner of Ku-Ku Farms and Creekside Grove Farms had refused an interview with W5.

Neither he nor anyone with Burnbrae Farms immediately responded to phone calls and emails from The Canadian Press.

The animal rights group is planning to hold news conferences on Monday at Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto.

Note to readers: This story makes a clarification. An earlier version did not specify that McDonald's says its eggs do not come from the farms referenced in the W5 story and that "we source no eggs from the province of Alberta."

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  • Sprinkles The Koala

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  • Camel In The Family

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  • Camel In The Family

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