The back page: January 2014
By Roy MaxwellFeatures Profiles Researchers Business/Policy Canada Poultry Production Production
Behind the Media Door
When I saw “Behind the Barn Door,” I was horrified at the blatant cruelty shown to be happening on two Alberta egg farms owned by a board member of Egg Farmers of Alberta (EFA). An undercover investigator with Mercy for Animals Canada had videotaped horrible conditions and deplorable practices, after a farm unknowingly took him on as an employee.
Dr. Ian Duncan, from the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at the University of Guelph, reviewed the video, saying: “Sick or injured birds should be treated or euthanized; (that is) extremely rough handling (of hens); thumping is not an approved way of killing chicks.” When he saw footage of chicks being thrown into a garbage bag, while some were still alive, he said, “That is absolutely unacceptable. That is horrible cruelty and that should not be allowed.”
CTV’s W5 spent a month or more producing the show after receiving a video from Mercy for Animals Canada. W5 was right to tell this story, but I give it failing grades in journalistic integrity and high marks in the performing arts.
The program was introduced by former CTV news anchor Lloyd Robertson, who said, “Despite industry assurance that animal welfare is important, when confronted with evidence to the contrary, egg farmers and egg marketers scrambled for cover.” Robertson’s introduction set the tone for an hour-long show that aggressively attacked the Canadian egg industry, creating the impression that chick and bird handling on the Alberta farms was representative of what often goes on behind barn doors on Canadian egg farms.
However, it is worth noting that the footage shown on TV was edited, meaning it may have included scenes from egg farms in the U.S. (where the parent animal rights group is based). People who deal with animal rights activists learned a long time ago not to trust videos from animal rights groups. Furthermore, CTV refused to give a copy of the footage to EFA or Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC). Instead, it wanted to record EFA’s marketing and communications manager, David Webb, and another EFA employee while they watched the video. This technique is used to create shock value. EFA agreed to watch the video, but without any cameras.
W5’s Victor Malarek waited outside the building and then called to request an interview and Webb said he would get back to him shortly. Afterwards, the crew saw Webb leaving the building and immediately put him on camera. Malarek said, “Hold on. You said you would call me right back. You are being disingenuous.” Webb repeated, “Until we have completed our investigation, there will be no interview. We asked for a copy of the video, but you have refused to give us a copy.”
It’s unfortunate that EFA didn’t express shock and dismay at the video, because that is how everyone else reacted. It was a missed opportunity to show compassion and put a human face on the marketing board. Instead, it created the impression that the only people who were not appalled at the cruelty are the same people responsible for on-farm inspections. Fair or unfair, that’s how it looked to me.
Malarek then seemed incensed about a biosecurity notice that he reported was sent by EFC to all Canadian egg farmers, warning them about the W5 program and advising them to keep people off their farms for biosecurity reasons.
For the record, EFC did not send a message to every egg farmer in Canada. It did, however, craft some words and send them to provincial marketing boards to help them communicate with their own farmers if they chose to do so. The main objective was to warn them about potential animal rights activities. It also advised them about the W5 story and included comments about biosecurity and the risk of people (animal rights activists) attempting to enter egg barns. It was a heads-up to be cautious. However, W5 believed EFC was using biosecurity as an excuse to keep journalists out and avoid answering tough questions, and Malarek almost seem to take it personally. Combining those three messages in one email was probably a mistake, because it amounted to throwing fuel on an already
Here is an interesting twist to leave you with. Go to the W5 website for the “Behind the Barn Door” episode and scroll to the bottom. If it is still posted, you will see an Egg Farmers of Canada message – sort of – because while the text was written by EFC, somebody else placed the Egg Farmers of Canada logo at the top and also wrote the heading “EFC Security Advisory.” In other words, the EFC document on the W5 website was not wholly created, as shown, by EFC.
Hmm…I wonder who did that? There’s an interesting story “Behind the Media Door,” too.
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