Egg producer Quantum Foods, a subsidiary of Pioneer Foods, has unreservedly apologised for the abusive treatment laying hens received at its Phokeng depot in Rustenburg, the NSPCA said on Thursday.
"This followed the NSPCA's horror findings in March when emaciated, injured, and dying birds were being sold from Pioneer Food's Phokeng depot," NSPCA farm animal protection unit manager Andries Venter said in a statement.
On March 26, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals negotiated a long-term strategy with Quantum and Pioneer Foods.
This was for the treatment of laying hens sold from the depot after their laying cycles.
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At the meeting, attended by the CEOs of Pioneer Foods, Quantum Foods, the NSPCA's executive director, and Venter, the egg producer unreservedly apologised for the Phokeng depot incident.
Venter said they acknowledged a lapse in standards had occurred and agreed that measures would be taken to upgrade the standard of handling hens.
Disciplinary action had been taken against all staff members at the Phokeng depot, with an independent investigation undertaken to ensure the disciplinary action was appropriate.
"A separate disciplinary hearing was held against the depot manager at which an NSPCA senior inspector presented damning evidence," said Venter.
"This resulted in the removal of the depot manager from the employment of Nulaid, [Quantum's retail egg brand]. All farming and depot staff have been re-trained on the proper treatment of living creatures."
Welfare for all the chickens
The NSPCA viewed this as a constructive and positive move for the welfare of chickens at all facilities.
Pioneer Foods gave an undertaking systems would immediately be put in place to improve the welfare standards of the birds to prevent suffering.
These included loading trolleys being introduced to reduce the physical handling of birds and related injuries, with this process set to be complete by September 30, 2015.
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The NSPCA and Quantum Foods would develop a container that would be sold to buyers of fewer hens to facilitate their humane transportation. This had since begun.
Humane standard poultry stunning equipment would be provided at each of their outlets and farms by July 31, 2014, even though it was not usually standard at outlets.
An audit would be conducted on all Nulaid farms to ensure the Southern African Poultry Association's standards were met, with the audit to be completed by June 30 this year.
Things will change
Venter said Poltek, South Africa's largest manufacturer and supplier of poultry equipment, immediately offered to design a concept for the container.
"The commitment by Pioneer Foods to upgrade systems for the handling of hens will significantly improve welfare standards. This will have far-reaching effects for the hens that pass through the system," he said.
The NSPCA was assured unrestricted access would be granted to NSPCA personnel to all facilities falling under the Quantum Foods umbrella.
"Pioneer Foods further confirmed that post-lay hens would be afforded the same status as laying hens and that industry standards agreed by the NSPCA would be adhered to," he said.
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