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Business and Economy

Humane Society Says Issues Persist at Turner Egg Farm

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MPBN file
The former DeCoster egg farm in Turner in August 2015.

It’s been six years since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has inspected the former DeCoster Egg Farm in Turner, one of the largest producers of brown eggs in the United States. It’s a farm with a long legacy of health, safety and labor violations.

Earlier this summer, an undercover video released by the Humane Society of the United States raised questions about food safety and the group asked the FDA to investigate. The FDA sent a written response to the HSUS on July 19.

In the letter, John Sheehan from the Office of Food Safety says when the FDA last inspected the Turner egg farm in 2010, investigators identified several issues, including a failure by the farm to take adequate steps to prevent salmonella. A month later, according to the letter, farm management notified the FDA of its corrective actions.

The FDA hasn’t gone back since, but in the letter, Sheehan says a return visit is planned.

“It makes me wonder, what role is the FDA playing to ensure the safety of this facility that has such a sordid track record of food safety and animal welfare problems?” says Paul Shapiro from the Humane Society of the United States.

That record Shapiro refers to includes a 2009 animal cruelty lawsuit against the egg farm that was ultimately settled. The owner of the farm, DeCoster entities, and the company that manages it, Hillandale Farms, are both linked to a salmonella outbreak in Iowa in 2010 that sickened nearly 2,000 people.

Shapiro says the Humane Society’s undercover video from June, which shows footage of dead birds in cages with live birds, reveals problems at the egg farm are still rampant.

“And little is being done to address them. That’s a real problem, certainly for consumers, and also for animals,” he says.

But John Bott of the Maine Department of Agriculture says the state conducts regular inspections of the facility, which houses 3 million hens.

“And we have no evidence to date that there’s any issue with regard to the safety of the eggs produced at the farm,” he says.

Bott says the state is investigating the Humane Society’s allegations of animal cruelty.

A spokeswoman for Hillandale Farms points out in an email that the company has only managed the Turner egg farm since 2015. Earlier this month, the company announced that all future expansions at its egg farms will be cage-free.