TORONTO - An animal rights group has filed a complaint against one of Canada's largest chicken producers, alleging the company makes "numerous false and misleading claims."
Animal Justice filed the complaint against Maple Lodge Farms last week with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Competition Bureau.
The group alleges Maple Lodge Farms is misleading consumers by portraying itself as a family company committed to the humane treatment of chickens.
It points to hidden camera footage released recently by Mercy for Animals that claimed it was taken inside the company's plant in Brampton, Ont., and showed birds dying of cold while being transported to the plant.
Anna Pippus, a spokesperson with Animal Justice, says the recent footage shows "egregious suffering" of chickens that is in contrast to images on the company's website and food packaging that portray a small-scale, pastoral farming operation.
Maple Lodge Farms says they have completed their investigation into the video and have taken "corrective action" through a variety of measures including an audit, reinforcement of welfare policies and employee discipline.
Last year, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency charged Maple Lodge Farms under the Health of Animals Act with cruelty to chickens after 2,000 of the birds died on two trips to slaughter in the winter of 2008-2009.
"We think Maple Lodge has been engaged in what we call humane washing, making numerous references to its so-called humane and respectful treatment of chickens and using this image of pastoral small scale farming," Pippus said.
"But this is very misleading for consumers because as we've seen with undercover footage aired recently, the reality of the treatment of chickens at Maple Lodge Farms is they are undergoing egregious suffering."
A spokesperson with Maple Lodge Farms said they take animal welfare seriously.
"All corrective actions have and will be implemented in conjunction with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and reviewed by welfare experts and veterinarians," spokesperson Carol Gardin said in an email to The Canadian Press.
Mercy for Animals said the video was shot in the months after the court's guilty decision was handed down last March.
Footage appears to show dead birds being unloaded at the plant and appears to depict birds with body parts trapped in cage doors, animals with protruding bones hanging in the plant, and chickens that emerge from the shock pool with their wing still flapping.
A judge ordered the company to spend at least $1 million over the following three years to modify its transport vehicles and make other changes to ensure humane treatment for the birds.
Gardin said the company has implemented a new loading and "gas stunning system" on one of its three processing lines.
"These systems provide significantly improved bird welfare by reducing handling, providing better environmental control during transportation and eliminating conscious shackling," Gardin said.
She added that the company is undergoing a "massive renovation" to its remaining two processing lines, but implementation will take time because many of the barns in Ontario aren't ready to handle the new technology.
The Competition Bureau refused to comment on the matter saying it conducts its work confidentially.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said it has received the complaint and will conduct "a thorough and careful review and will take any necessary measures that it may deem appropriate."