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No Cruelty Found in Hillandale Farms Investigation

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Maine Public file
The former DeCoster egg farm in Turner in August 2015.

An investigation by the state’s Animal Welfare Program has found no evidence of animal cruelty or proof that Hillandale Farms in Turner violated best management practices.

The massive egg operation, owned by Jack DeCoster and leased by Hillandale, came under fire last year from the Humane Society of the United States for a series of alleged animal cruelty violations.

In a complaint made with the state last June, the animal welfare group said it had undercover video that showed hens being forced to share cages with the decaying carcasses of other hens, some left in cages so long that they were mummified and stuck to the wire cage floor.

The group accused Hillandale of failing to control mice that were so numerous that some were in cages with hens, and also of failing to address a serious manure problem.

“The video from the investigation absolutely speaks for itself, and really speaks volumes,” says Katie Hansberry, Maine state director of the Humane Society of the United States.

Hansberry says the group is disappointed that the state found no violation of best management practices and no reason to move forward with the complaint.

In explaining the decision in a 25-page report, Maine Animal Welfare Program Director Liam Hughes writes that an assistant district attorney for Androscoggin County agreed that animal cruelty citations were “not plausible.”

Hughes could not be reached for comment for this story. But Hansberry says the report sends a poor message about Maine agricultural practices.

“I think if it’s Maine’s position that this video is showing state-endorsed best practices, that’s really concerning, and there’s a huge problem not just at that facility but with the state’s regulation of food safety and animal welfare,” she says.

Hansberry says her group will work to make changes in regulations and educate the public about animal welfare issues. She says the group has no current plans to seek a ballot measure similar to one recently passed in Massachusetts that requires eggs to be produced in cage-free facilities.