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In February 2009, just days after completing an undercover investigation inside Cal-Cruz Hatcheries, a chicken and duck hatchery in Santa Cruz, California, Compassion Over Killing met with the Santa Cruz Animal Services Authority and the Santa Cruz District’s Attorney’s Office to hand over our video evidence and other documentation revealing routine abuse forced upon day-old hatchlings. A COK investigator worked inside Cal-Cruz hatcheries for nearly a month, using a hidden camera to record the conditions for hundreds of thousands of baby birds hatched each week inside this facility.
Our evidence prompted the Santa Cruz Animal Services Authority to conduct an independent follow up investigation. The investigation by humane law enforcement not only corroborated our evidence of abuse and neglect; it also resulted in the impoundment of 88 ducklings in urgent need of care. A subsequent report written by Animal Services and filed with the district attorney’s office recommended that criminal charges of animal cruelty be filed.
After holding on to this case for many months, the Santa Cruz District Attorney’s office called Compassion Over Killing in late April 2010 to state that it was officially declining to prosecute this facility and its owner for animal cruelty. The reasoning behind the District Attorney’s decision is not clear, though the state’s animal protection laws are: California’s animal cruelty laws (Cal. Pen. Code §§ 597-599) protect all animals, including farmed animals.
More specifically, California’s animal protection laws represent a small minority of state laws without a “common” or “normal” practices exemption for agricultural operations. In other words, the same laws that protects dogs and cats from abuse and neglect can—and should—be equally applied to animals raised for food. Furthermore, California law places a clear legal duty of care on the owner of the animals,1 or in this case the owner of the hatchery, Brian Collins, as well as the corporation itself.2
As documented in Compassion Over Killing’s investigation video, newly-hatched birds are tossed several feet into buckets, sick or injured birds are set aside and left to suffer for hours or even overnight in buckets or on the concrete floor without any veterinary care, many become are mangled in the machinery ripping their skin, limbs, or heads from their bodies, and unwanted birds, while still alive, are dumped down the same drain as the cracked egg shells—all as a matter of routine hatchery operation. Certainly, such acts constitute violations of California Penal Code § 597(b) which clearly states, “…every person who … tortures, torments … mutilates, or cruelly kills any animal, or causes or procures any animal to be so… mutilated, or cruelly killed; and whoever, having the charge or custody of any animal, either as owner or otherwise, subjects any animal to needless suffering, or inflicts unnecessary cruelty upon the animal, or in any manner abuses any animal… is, for every such offense, guilty of a crime.”3
Additionally, after Compassion Over Killing released this video on June 2, area media outlets flocked to the hatchery and many interviewed Brian Collins on camera. During these media interviews, he admitted the video footage depicted his hatchery and its routine operations, even acknowledging that some chicks do become injured during the processing. He justifies these injuries by suggesting that it’s acceptable since the number of birds who become injured is relatively small (although Compassion Over Killing’s evidence indicates a much higher number than Collins admits). He also claims that such practices overall are legal because they adhere to industry standards. What this reasoning fails to take into account is that California laws protect each animal and every animal who is harmed, so even if only a single hatchling was abused, it would still constitute a violation of state criminal law. Furthermore, regardless of whether or not Mr. Collins is maintaining his operation in accordance with so-called “industry standards,” such standards are voluntary, typically unaudited by the industry, and most importantly, have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on California state law. While the “industry standard” defense might offer a legally viable argument in other states, it doesn’t hold water in California since the animal cruelty laws do not exempt normal agricultural operations.
Such overwhelming documentation—a graphic undercover video, a report by humane law enforcement recommending that charges be filed, over 80 ducklings in need of urgent care impounded by authorities, and now an admission by the owner of the facility that birds become injured and are dumped down a trash disposal drain—provides more than sufficient evidence for the prosecution to move forward with a clear cut case of animal cruelty.
However, the District Attorney’s office refuses to act in this case. We feel confident that if these same abuses were inflicted upon on dogs or cats, this case would have promptly been prosecuted. And while it’s unclear why the Prosecutor declined to take this case to court, what is clear is despite the laws written to protect animals, this hatchery continues to operate without reprimand, and it’s likely that hundreds of thousands of baby birds continue to suffer unnecessarily and countless day-old animals continue to endure painful deaths each week inside this facility.
1 California Penal Code sections 597(b) and 597.1(a), which state that the law places a legal duty on an owner of animals, as well as anyone “having the charge or custody of any animal,” or “[e]very owner, driver, or possessor of any animal.” As the Owner and President of Cal-Cruz Hatcheries, Mr. Collins is unquestionably liable for the documented abuses both personally and in his representative capacity.
2 California Penal Code section 599(b) provides in part, “the words ‘owner’ and ‘person’ include corporations as well as individuals . . . .”
3 See also “Every owner, driver, or possessor of any animal, who permits the animal to be in any building, enclosure, lane… of any city, city and county, or judicial district, without proper care and attention, shall, on conviction, be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor.” Cal. Pen. Code § 597.1(a)