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Cal-Cruz Hatcheries Abused, Tossed, Drowned Chickens, Says Lawsuit (VIDEO)

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A California chicken hatchery has been sued for alleged animal abuse after gruesome undercover video footage revealed hatchlings with ripped skin and exposed organs being thrown into bins, trapped under machinery and drowned.

Compassion Over Killing, a Washington, D.C.-based animal protection group, on Wednesday filed a complaint asking Santa Cruz Superior Court to end the alleged abuse at Cal-Cruz Hatcheries Inc. in Santa Cruz. The hatchery didn't return messages seeking comment.

The group turned over undercover video shot by its investigator, a factual statement and a legal memo to the Santa Cruz County Animal Services Authority and the local district attorney in February 2009, the lawsuit says. The animal services authority confirmed the abuse and seized 88 hatchlings, Compassion Over Killing said in a statement. Farm Sanctuary, an animal protection organization, reported many of the birds were so sick they required euthanization. The rescue group took 38 survivors.

Cheryl Leahy, Compassion Over Killing's general counsel, said in an email that the DA's office "informed us that they would not be filing charges (for reasons that are still unclear to us)" a year after the group approached investigators. In a statement, Compassion Over Killing accused the hatchery of felony animal abuse. The prosecutor who supervised the investigation didn't immediately return a call.

A copy of the lawsuit, emailed to The Huffington Post, states:

The investigation revealed that Cal-Cruz, through its employees, operates heavy machinery in a manner that regularly mutilates hatchlings, neglects dying birds trapped in machinery or on the concrete floor, drowns baby birds in buckets of waste, throws hatchlings several feet into trash bins where they remain for several hours, abuses hatchlings with excessive force by washing them down a disposal chute with a high-powered hose, jams birds down the chute with a pole, and cruelly kills hatchlings in a crowded disposal chute in a manner that does not guarantee a humane death.

"The systematic torture and reckless neglect of baby birds at Cal-Cruz is not only shocking -- it is also illegal under the California Business and Professions Code," said Carter Dillard, litigation director for Animal Legal Defense Fund, which filed the lawsuit.

Cal-Cruz hatches and ships millions of chicks each year to growers who raise the birds until they are slaughtered, the lawsuit says. A Cal-Cruz representative told the group many of these chicks are sent to Bauer Family Farms and Carlson Family Farms and are ultimately destined for meat counters at Northern California grocery stores, according to Compassion Over Killing's statement.

Representatives of Bauer Family Farms and Carlson Family Farms could not be reached for comment.

"There is a hard reality when it comes to factory farming," Dillard said. "If you look at the video, you see the numbers of animals involved -- businesses have to maximize numbers so they try to minimize labor costs. The problem with factory farms is you cannot have those numbers of animals being cared for by so few people without a significant number of the animals literally falling through the cracks."

KGO-TV reported in 2010 that Cal-Cruz Hatchery president Brian Collins had viewed the video and confirmed it was taken in his facility. He told the San Francisco TV station, "I think the employees get desensitized to the actual handling of the bird, and for them, it's a job." He said he may make one change: "Right now, the guideline is every 30 minutes you empty those boxes, I might make it 15 and be more diligent about it."

Leahy said the group has "no reason to think the hatchery has made any significant changes."

Cal-Cruz has 30 days to admit or deny the lawsuit's allegations.

WATCH COK's undercover video from within Cal-Cruz:

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