Compassion Over Killing, based in Washington, D.C., says it is disappointed that the Santa Cruz District Attorney's office has declined to file charges against the Cal-Cruz Hatchery on Rodriguez St. in Santa Cruz. That disappointment prompted the group to release the video publicly on Wednesday.
The undercover video was shot by a volunteer who was hired to do maintenance work at the hatchery. The unidentified man worked there for three weeks. The video is extremely graphic, showing mostly baby chicks and a few ducklings being processed after emerging from their shells.
The video showed chicks with wounds and torn limbs lying near conveyor belts where they are sorted, gender identified and prepared for shipment to growers.
One chick was shown left to drown in a pail of waste water. Another had its head trapped in a tray being cleaned in a cloud of steam.
"These young birds are every bit as capable of suffering as the dogs and cats with whom we share our homes, and like those dogs and cats, these animals deserve protection from harm," Erica Meier from Compassion Over Killing said.
Santa Cruz County Animal Services Authority interim director Lynn Miller confirmed that the video prompted an investigation by his agency. His staff visited Cal-Cruz Hatchery and found 88 ducklings in distress that required immediate veterinary care. They were seized and examined.
Of the 88, 40 were euthanized due to their condition while 48 were treated and later sent to an animal sanctuary.
"Most people have never seen inside a hatchery where chickens are coming from, so when they go to the grocery store and they buy packages of chicken, people have no idea the abuse these animals endured before getting to the grocery store shelves," Maier said.
The company has been in business over 50 years. The Santa Cruz County Animal Services Authority says the hatchery has had no previous complaints.
Hatchery president Brian Collins looked at the video and confirmed it shows his facility.
"I think the employees get desensitized to the actual handling of the bird, and for them, it's a job. So they don't have a good understanding all the time this is the way we do it here," he said.
Collins indicated he will make one change in the disposal of rejected chicks.
"Right now, the guideline is every 30 minutes you empty those boxes, I might make it 15 and be more diligent about it," he said.
The Santa Cruz District Attorney's office late on Wednesday afternoon issued a statement, saying that it takes animal rights cases seriously, but with the evidence provided, it could not build and prove a case against specific individuals.
Compassion Over Killing, says its mission is to educate consumers about how meat, milk and eggs are produced and to promote a vegan diet.