CBS News by Geoff Leo
Sean Pender says he couldn’t believe his eyes when he started working at Pedigree Poultry a couple of weeks ago.
“When I get there they tell us there’s going to be wood ticks. Those are not wood ticks, those are bedbugs,” Pender said.
Pender was part of a group of workers sent to the Regina Beach chicken farm by Labour Ready, an employment agency.
“You’d pull it out and let it drop and bang,” Pender said. “Just a seething mass of them all over the ground. It was just disgusting.”
“I ended up with [bedbugs] around the tops of my socks, just drinking blood like a whole line of them right around the top of my socks as far as they would go because I’m wearing shorts all the time.”
Pender said the bugs were crawling all over the other workers as well. He said they were concerned they might unwittingly be spreading them around Regina.
“If you don’t suit up properly you’re going drag these things home with you,” Pender said. “You’re going to infest your home with this stuff.”
Workers walked off the job
He said by noon he and the other workers had enough and decided to leave.
A spokesperson for Labour Ready, based in Tacoma, Washington, Stacey Burke, confirmed that.
She said the conditions the workers described is cause for concern.
“We did not know the condition of the farm. We did not know that there were some health and safety concerns,” Burke said. “I’m sure it wasn’t disclosed.”
She said Labour Ready should have been told and the workers should have been properly equipped.
Pedigree Poultry responds
The owner of Pedigree Poultry, James Glen, admitted there’s a problem which he said caught him by surprise too.
“The reason that they [the workers] weren’t notified of any issue was because we were unaware of it,” Glen said.
He pointed out the chickens had been laying eggs undisturbed in the barn for a year, and were just recently removed and sent for slaughter.
“The reason that they [the workers] weren’t notified of any issue was because we were unaware of it” – James Glen, Owner of Pedigree Poultry
He said that allowed the bedbugs “to increase without anybody’s knowledge.”
Glen said no one noticed because his workers are only in the barns during the day and bedbugs only come out at night.
While Glen agrees there’s an infestation in his barn he disputes Pender’s suggestion that there was a “seething mass” of bedbugs.
“I don’t think it’s true that there was gobs and gobs of bedbugs,” Glen said.
He said as soon as he became aware of the problem he started searching the internet for solutions, and he contacted veterinarians and pest control companies.
So far Glen has tried spraying a bleach solution and spreading diatomaceous earth, which he said works as a natural insecticide.
Glen said it seems to be working, though the bugs haven’t yet been completely eliminated.
This isn’t the first time Pedigree Poultry has run into bad luck with its flock.
Back in 2007 the Canadian Food Inspection agency confirmed it had been hit with avian flu. All 50,000 birds on the farm were destroyed.
Scientist called to investigate
A U of S poultry veterinarian, whose position is funded by Saskatchewan’s chicken industry, is familiar with the issue, which she said is becoming more common.
Dr. Jenny Fricke said bedbug infestations of poultry barns have “been reported to be increasing over recent years.”
She said chicken farms provide a perfect environment for bedbugs.
“They will feed on anything with blood. So if they’re introduced into a poultry barn environment there is a wealth of different hosts for them to feed upon.”
She said the iTeam’s call to Saskatchewan’s chicken industry association prompted officials to send a letter warning of a potential bug problem to the approximately 70 chicken farms in the province.
Fricke said a handful of those producers replied, including Pedigree Poultry, which invited Fricke to investigate.
She’s not able to discuss what she found because of confidentiality protocols.
She said a bedbug infestation is bad for the health of the flock, potentially limiting production.
“Anything that’s causing irritation and distress in a flock is also an animal welfare concern,” Fricke added.
However she said she has no reason to believe that bedbugs could affect the quality of the meat.
Occupational health and safety to investigate
In a written statement Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) told CBC’s iTeam it would be investigating this situation.
It said employers have an obligation to inform, train and equip their workers.
“In a situation where workers may be exposed to offensive substances they would have to be advised of that and provided with appropriate clothing to wear at work, as well as a suitable separate area to store their street clothing.”
Glen said he’s spoken with OHS officials and has agreed to take all of the steps they recommended.