Treatment of horses at slaughterhouse

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

Report involving the care and treatment of horses at the slaughterhouse, Natural Valley Farms (complaint from Ken Piller, President, Natural Valley Farms)

You wrote initially last year to complain about the actions of CBC reporter Mellissa Fung even before any item was aired concerning Natural Valley Farms and the care and treatment of horses on the property.

There was an extended exchange of correspondence over several months between you and the producers of The National, Jonathan Whitten and Mark Harrison, dealing with the accusation that the CBC had been paid by an activist group to target Natural Valley Farms. You also raised other issues, some specific and some general.

There followed an exchange of correspondence between you and this office, at first suggesting that legal action was being contemplated. After being advised that the Ombudsman steps aside when such action is under way or contemplated, you advised that no such action was in view.

Unfortunately, the backlog created by the turmoil leading up to the federal election delayed my getting to this matter. Then, a truly unfortunate circumstance: the reporter in question, Mellissa Fung, was unavailable to me for several months as she had been kidnapped by an armed gang in Afghanistan while she was on assignment for CBC News. Subsequent to her release, I was finally able to discuss the matter with her and her producer, Lynn Burgess.

To be honest, it is not clear what items are still “on the table” since, in your last communication with Jonathan Whitten you wrote “I won't get into the small details either as it is certainly not worth my efforts. The one question though you have still unanswered is what I referred to as misrepresentation as far as the companions that were possibly traveling along with Mellissa. Payed or unpaid or whatever is not a concern to me. Did CBC bring any activists onto my property?”

Despite that note, I will deal with the specific items that I can find in the correspondence. They are: that Ms. Fung misrepresented herself while at Natural Valley Farms; that she “brought” animal activists who you refer to as “terrorists” onto the property; that footage obtained by the CBC had been speeded up; that single deck trucks were called double deck and that Dr. Temple Grandin, who you correctly refer to as the “public authority on Humane Slaughter” had been “misquoted.”

Much of the other correspondence contained somewhat tendentious statements about “minorities ruling the world,” the difficulties encountered by regulated slaughter houses and a general misunderstanding of the problems faced by the business. These latter I am not able to deal with.


After discussion with the relevant parties I have found that there certainly was no payment by Animal Angels, the activist group, to the CBC. In fact, while at the farm the CBC and Animal Angels worked separately. At no point did Ms. Fung illegally enter private property. She did, as you know, enter the farm to ask for an interview, but was turned away by you. She returned to the public road and all shooting by the CBC camera operator took place from public roadways.

The CBC did obtain subsequently footage shot inside the plant. It is clear from the original footage obtained, and the timecodes thereon, that it was not speeded up.

There appears to be a legitimate question about the single deck vs. double deck truck—the one observed from afar unloading approximately forty horses one night. The journalists were not able to see inside the truck, so it well might have been a single-deck trailer, conforming to regulations. There also seems to be a question as to how that many horses could have been accommodated appropriately on one deck and what their condition during travel would be.

Although you did not specify in what way Dr. Grandin was misquoted, I checked with her directly and read her the relevant passages of the script. She confirmed that it was an accurate representation of her remarks. She also said that she had subsequently seen the footage from inside the plant and that the program's conclusions appeared well founded. She had not seen the footage at the time of the interview.

She also said that she was familiar with the group Animal Angels and that she thought terming them “terrorists” was far from accurate. There are some animal rights groups that use violent tactics to make their points, but, according to Dr. Grandin, Animal Angels was not one of them.

I do not know what to make of the rather loose charges of terrorism and the rule of minorities, except to say that you are certainly entitled to your opinion, but not to your own facts. Ms. Fung, of course, has become all too familiar with real terrorists and cannot agree that the actions of Animal Angels come anywhere near that description.

I also note that, in speaking with Western Producer magazine, you said “If anyone wants to see the truth, I'll show them the truth.” Of course, that was exactly what Ms. Fung was requesting when you turned her away.

Conclusion

There may have been an error in reporting the inside configuration of the truck that delivered a shipment of horses. However, in all the particulars I could verify, the item was done within the rather strict bounds of CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman