Animal Rights Group Alleges Abuse at Turner Egg Farm
The Humane Society of the United States has released an undercover video of what it calls “abusive” practices at the former DeCoster Egg Farm in Turner.
This is not the first time an animal protection organization has made allegations of animal cruelty at the farm, and the Humane Society wants the state to investigate.
The egg farm in Turner, still owned by DeCoster entities, is the largest in New England. Now managed by Hillandale Farms, the facility’s 70 barns currently house about 3 million hens.
Over the course of four weeks this spring, an undercover worker captured video footage of the hens’ living conditions.
“We found dead birds locked in cages with live birds, with the live birds still laying eggs for human consumption on top of these decaying corpses.” says Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection for the Humane Society of the United States. “Each one of these birds has less space than a sheet of paper for her to live on her entire life.”
The video is similar to another undercover video captured in 2009 from the Ohio-based group called Mercy for Animals. That resulted in an animal cruelty lawsuit which the egg farm’s owner, Jack DeCoster, settled for $130,000.
Though DeCoster Entities still owns the facility in Turner, Hillandale Farms became manager of operations about a year ago. Both Hillandale and DeCoster are linked to a salmonella outbreak in 2010 that originated in Iowa and sickened nearly 2,000 people across the U.S.
Hillandale spokeswoman Melanie Wilt says quality is a priority at the company.
“Hillandale Fams has been committed to taking great care of its hens and producing quality eggs for more than 50 years. And that commitment to quality is renewed every day,” she says.
Wilt says the company is investigating practices in its barns. She says issues such as dead chickens left in cages for more than a day have been addressed.
“The worker who shot the video did not meet our standard of care, and is no longer employed by Hillandale,” she says.
But the Humane Society of the United States wants the state to intervene. It has filed a complaint with the Maine Department of Agriculture, and spokesman John Bott says the department is looking into the matter.
“We’re obviously focused on this complaint and take it very seriously. And we’re gathering information, and we’ve been in touch with HSUS to obtain as much information as possible and move forward,” he says.
In addition to an investigation, the Humane Society wants Hillandale Farms to commit to converting its egg farms to cage-free. Wilt says Hillandale plans to have cage-free egg farms in New England within the next year or so.
In Massachusetts, a proposed ballot measure would ban the sale of food products from farms that hold animals in overly restrictive cages.