Seafood company under investigation after allegations of animal abuse

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Campaigners say animal welfare was disregarded at a salmon hatchery run by Cooke, one of the worlds largest seafood companies, in Maine

A major global seafood company is under investigation by state officials in Maine after allegations of animal abuse.

Undercover footage published on Monday appears to show disfigured salmon being scooped out of cramped tanks and tossed into plastic containers where they are left to slowly suffocate at an aquaculture farm in Maine, US.

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The video was filmed secretly at a salmon hatchery run by Cooke, one of the worlds largest independent seafood companies, with revenues of $1.8bn (1.5bn) in 2018.

In this unnatural environment, many salmon at the hatchery dont even survive long enough to be sent to slaughter at another facility, according to Compassion Over Killing (COK), the campaigners behind the investigation.

Cooke a global company headquartered in Canada operates salmon farms in the US, Scotland, and Chile. Its subsidiary True North Foods sells a line of packaged seafood meals in partnership with lifestyle guru Martha Stewart. The companys sustainability policy includes a pledge to raise fish with optimal care and consideration of animal welfare practices.

Campaigners said animal welfare was disregarded at the Cooke facility in Maine. They said the video shows some of the salmon at the farm suffered from spinal deformities, and that some had fungus growth eating away at their faces. Workers also slammed and stomped on the fish, COK said. By Kelly Felix

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I watched as their bodies were slammed into the ground over and over, said COKs undercover investigator in an interview with the Guardian, who got a job at Cookes Maine hatchery earlier this year. I saw their scales ripped from their bodies due to the friction.

The investigators footage also shows workers administering vaccines, and clipping the fins of fish that do not appear to be fully anesthetised.

Unlike cows and pigs, fish are not protected by a US federal law requiring the humane slaughter of farmed animals. However, COK has filed a legal complaint with the animal welfare unit of Maines department of agriculture, alleging animal abuse.

A spokesperson for the department said it had received a complaint and was investigating. Cooke also confirmed that it had met with officials from the Maine Department of Agriculture to discuss the complaint.

A growing body of research suggests that fish possess high cognitive functioning, and have prolonged reactions to painful stimuli.

In 2009, the European Unions former health commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said that there is sufficient scientific evidence indicating that fish are sentient beings and that they are subject to pain and suffering.

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Aquaculture industry certification groups like Best Aquaculture Practices promote animal health and welfare standards. The National Aquaculture Association, the leading industry group in the US, also promotes quick slaughter and other humane practices.

In a statement posted on Cookes website, the companys CEO said: It appears that unacceptable fish handling incidents have occurred at the Bingham hatchery. These are not our standards and will not continue.

He also announced that Cooke will institute a rigorous re-training program at the Maine facility. I am very sorry that this has happened, he said. We understand that animal health and welfare are an important piece of raising animals.

In response to the video footage, the National Aquaculture Association said it did not support or condone malicious acts of animal abuse.

Successful farming depends upon healthy animals and conscientious care. Animal abuse must be immediately reported to farm owners and/or managers or to public authorities when farm managers are unresponsive to reports of mistreatment in a timely manner, it said in a public statement.

Aquaculture accounts for half the global fish production. As wild fish stocks decline, aquaculture production will need to double by 2050, according to a report by the World Resources Institute that found that industrial fish farms are already rapidly expanding, despite risks that they can spread disease and pollute the ocean.

The US is a minor aquaculture producer, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and was ranked 16th in 2016 on a global scale.

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