A severe pattern of animal abuse at the Soglowek Foods chicken slaughtering plant was exposed Tuesday evening on the Channel 10 investigative and consumer affairs program Kolbotek.
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The expose contained disturbing footage showing workers poking iron rods through cages packed with fowl to release doors that frequently get jammed, and how the chickens are knocked around and pile into each other when the old, broken down and twisted cages tip over.
Workers are shown abusively using metal hooks to catch chickens that get loose, and in one case brutally disengaging a leg that was caught. In another sequence a chicken with its head stuck between the bars of the cage has it manually yanked back by a worker but apparently doesn't survive the ordeal.
Soglowek CEO Pini Kamari said in response: "We regret and apologize for what was shown on Kolbotek, which doesn’t reflect Soglowek's spirit and policies. The incidents shown in the expose weren't done maliciously or with bad intent. We view this case with gravity and therefore dealt with it immediately.As soon as we found out we replaced the equipment at the slaughterhouse.
Despite the equipment conforming to Israeli and worldwide standards and regulations, we decided to immediately stop work and replace it with a process adhering to stricter standards. We'll take all necessary measures to prevent this from happening again. It's important for us to stress that the incident has no bearing on the quality of the company's products. The products are as high quality and safe as always."
It was Ronen Bar, the Kolbotek investigator preparing the story, who last year exposed the allegedly abusive treatment of animals at Tnuva's Adom Adom cattle slaughterhouse in Beit She'an. Bar, a member of the animal rights group Anonymous, worked undercover at the Soglowek plant for several months. He says the program's team filming the slaughterhouse found serious violations of the Animal Protection Law and of regulations for transporting animals.
"Most of the problems derive from the infrastructure of the Soglowek slaughterhouse," says Bar. "There is a machine that tilts the chicken cages downward to unload them − just like unloading gravel. This leads to an appalling situation in which the machine repeatedly tips the cages, slamming the chickens when they get stuck and don't fall."
He claims that those caught by the head suffer a slow and agonizing death.
Bar says it is evident that the workers there have no feeling or understanding that they're dealing with living beings. "They do everything to make sure production moves fast and that output is maximized," he says.
This is the only slaughterhouse of the four plants operated by Soglowek, and Bar says the company should have known what was going on. "It's clear they've visited there so either they knew and kept quiet, which can't be explained, or they didn't know − which is clearly unacceptable."
According to Bar, the atrocities at the slaughterhouse aren't mentioned except in humor, and with complete disregard for any moral issues. "They carry on as if that's how it ought it be," he says. "There's a paradox here: Nobody who cares about animals can work there, so those who are there are invariably apathetic. I'm often asked if they're sadistic, but it's not true. These are indifferent people who manage to repress the issue of cruelty to animals."
The Agriculture Ministry responded: "We carry out extensive and continuous activity in all the slaughterhouses and throughout the year regarding everything connected with animal welfare, both at the level of overseeing and enforcing animal cruelty laws and at the level of legislation, setting regulations and instituting reforms in areas dealing with animals to improve their welfare. This is in addition to supervision by the slaughterhouses' own veterinarians and inspectors trained and supervised by the ministry. The ministry conducted several visits in the past year at this particular slaughterhouse in accordance with a systematic plan providing for supervision at several levels for fixing defects found from time to time.
"During the last visit, which took place several days ago, there were no signs of physical harm done to chickens or violations of the Animal Protection Law. But a number of chickens were noticed that weren't easily released from the transport cage and were manually collected by the workers. Some of the transport cages were found to be broken and unfit for use. The ministry instructed Soglowek about fixing these flaws and improving the welfare of the chickens during their wait and unloading."
Animal rights groups Let the Animals Live and Anonymous filed charges with the police against Soglowek Wednesday for violating the Animal Protection Law and transport regulations. Chickens and turkeys, they claim, often sit crammed in their cages at the slaughterhouse for 20 hours after their arrival in appalling conditions without any food or water. The two organizations also called on the Agriculture Ministry to shut down the facility.
Anonymous, which assisted in carrying out the investigation, released a statement saying: "The horrors occurring at the Soglowek slaughterhouse would appall anyone watching this important expose. This is the first report on the poultry meat industry that claims over 200 million victims a year and goes on without any public criticism, until now. Severe violations of the Animal Protection Law and poultry transport regulations were filmed in the investigation. This slaughterhouse must be shut down immediately. We're talking about systematic abuse on a daily basis, not sadistic behavior by one worker or another. Soglowek can't shake off responsibility for what goes on at its flagship plant. We call on consumers not to support the harm done to helpless animals, boycott Soglowek and remove the abuse from the dinner plate."
Meanwhile, animal rights activists Ariela Brochman and Yaakov Menashe filed a request Wednesday morning with the Tel Aviv District Court to recognize a NIS 200 million class action suit against Soglowek following the broadcast.
"Had we known that this is how Soglowek treats the chickens on their way to being slaughtered at its plants, we wouldn’t have chosen its products and would have preferred buying products of another manufacturer, whether on the grounds of maintaining kashrut or grounds of animal cruelty," read the request, submitted through attorney Ram Gorodeisky.
This wasn't the first time alleged brutality by Soglowek's workers has come to light, according to the class action petitioners. "Not long ago, on the night of May 6, 2013 a truck belonging to the defendant and loaded with chickens overturned on Highway 22 between Kiryat Ata and Kiryat Bialik. Hundreds of chickens were killed on the spot and many others were hurt. Animal rights activists arrived on the scene and documented the severe violence and brutal treatment toward the birds that survived and were hurt, with dozens of carcasses lying on the road. Soglowek workers were recorded kicking the dying chickens and jamming turkeys whose bodies were crushed and ripped to pieces back into the cages to transport them to the slaughterhouse. In the film you can see workers holding chickens by their broken wings until they tore off."
The petitioners are asking that anyone who bought Soglowek products in the last seven years and are upset about the company's alleged mistreatment of animals be included in the class action.