Just as the chickens were about to go to slaughter, employees at a Foster Farms poultry company in Fresno County, Calif., began hitting them and pulling out their feathers.
That video footage, obtained in an undercover investigation by Mercy for Animals, an animal rights group based in Los Angeles, led it to file a complaint Thursday with the Federal Trade Commission against the American Humane Association and Foster Farms for falsely advertising that the slaughterhouse treats its animals humanely.
“The abuse that we documented stands in stark contrast to the labeling on these Foster Farms chicken products,” said Vandhana Bala, the general counsel for Mercy for Animals.
The animal anti-cruelty group is hoping to prevent Foster Farms from using the American Humane Association’s certified logo on its products. The logo, a yellow circle with a cartoon picture of a farm and a sun inside, certifies that the company meets its standards for the humane treatment of its animals.
“Customers are willing to pay a higher price for products that are considered humane,” Bala said.
In response to the FTC complaint, Foster Farms said in a statement that it had recently fired five employees “who were directly involved in abusive behavior or witnessed incidents without reporting the violations to management.”
The California-based company employs 10,500 people and made $2.2 billion in sales in 2013, according to Forbes. It has been certified by the American Humane Association since 2013 and has not failed an audit.
“They don’t want to see them abused,” Mark Stubis, a spokesman for the association, said of the animals handled by Foster Farms. “It’s not in (the company’s) interest. We’re going to work with them to make sure corrective action is taken.”
I think the public should understand that no certification program can stop a few rogue employees willfully breaking the rules.
Mark Stubis of the American Humane Association
But Mercy for Animals also wants to prevent the American Humane Association from certifying farms and issuing a logo. The association certifies 100 farms across the country.
“Their standards are inferior to every other standard in the country,” Bala alleged, referring to the measurements the American Humane Association sets to determine whether or not it will certify a farm.
The American Humane Association has been working on protecting animal for 138 years, the same cause of Mercy for Animals. However, the two groups have different approaches.
“Our perspective is that, as long as people are choosing to eat these things,” said Stubis, “we need to make sure that we can take a system that’s already efficient, safe and affordable and we need to add a humane element.”
Upon seeing the Mercy for Animals video from Foster Farms, the humane association started investigating the poultry company to see if the farms still met its standards. The association performed a surprise audit with an independent investigator, which Foster Farms passed.
“We tolerate no abuse of animals,” Stubis said. “But I think the public should understand that no certification program can stop a few rogue employees willfully breaking the rules.”
While every state has laws against animal cruelty, the laws become more vague in regards to the treatment of farm animals.
“What happens is that factory farmers are able to determine what’s legal and what’s going to be standard practice in terms of their treatment of animals,” Bala said. “And they’re generally more concerned about profits than animal welfare.”
The audits are a part of the association’s certification standards, which look at things like air quality, adequate space, lighting, temperature, food and humane treatment.
“We have farms where you have chickens and turkeys on pasture,” Stubis said. “But we also took the responsibility of certifying larger production farms because that’s where most of the animals are.”
Daniel Desrochers: @drdesrochers