News: Filthy Conditions At Egg Farms Driving Cage-Free Movement

News: Filthy Conditions At Egg Farms Driving Cage-Free Movement

Sep 01

By Lisa Wade McCormick
September 1, 2010

Original Link

Recent findings of piles of manure, rodents, and other unsanitary conditions on the Iowa farms linked to the massive salmonella-tainted egg recall are “disgusting,” but not surprising to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

The conditions on farms owned by Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms Inc. mirror those found on four other Iowa egg producing farms during a Humane Society investigation earlier this year.

“The findings are shocking and disgusting, but unfortunately they are the same as we’ve documented repeatedly, and as recently as February and March of this year,” Dr. Michael Greger, the HSUS’s director of public health and animal agriculture told “This is an industry-wide problem. These practices are the same as we found in our investigations in Iowa…and in other investigations across the country.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the past week inspected the Iowa farms now blamed for the country’s largest egg recall and, according to their reports, found such deplorable conditions as:

• Doors to hen laying houses blocked by “excessive amounts” of manure;

• Dark liquid that “appeared to be manure” seeping though the foundations of hen laying houses;

• Employees working in hen laying houses who did not wear or change protective clothing when moving from house to house. One employee walked out of a hen house with a “metal scraper” and went to another house without cleaning or sanitizing the equipment;

• Live mice in egg laying houses;

• Live and dead flies “too numerous to count” inside egg laying houses;

• Live and dead maggots “too numerous to count” in a manure pit;

• Liquid manure “streaming” out of a 6 inch gap in a manure pit door;

• Nearly 50 un-caged hens tracking manure from the pit to the hen house areas;

• Scores of unsealed rodent holes.

The FDA reports also revealed that several samples collected during the inspections tested positive for Salmonella Enteritidis, the strain of bacterium that has sickened people in 10 states. Those samples were taken from manure and the feed mill at Wright County Egg facilities and from water at an egg washing station on a Hillandale farm.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this outbreak is the largest “Salmonella Enteritidis (SE)” epidemic in U.S. history. The outbreak has triggered a recall of more a half-billion eggs and sickened approximately 1,470 people from May 1 to August 25, 2010, the CDC said.

But the Humane Society’s Dr. Greger said these widespread health problems might have been prevented if the industry and government regulators would have investigated the deplorable conditions his organization exposed earlier this year on other Iowa egg producing farms.

“The FDA seemed shocked by our findings back in April,” he said. “But we have not gotten word that they (FDA inspectors) have gone to the four farms we investigated; we certainly hoped they would.”

The Humane Society said it discovered such “rampant abuses” and “appalling” conditions inside Iowa’s Rose Acre Farms and Rembrandt Enterprises, the nation’s second-and third-largest egg producers, as:

• Manure pits that hadn’t been maintained. One worked said a manure pit under a pullet shed hadn’t been cleaned in two years;

• Abandoned and starving hens found in manure pits;

• Trapped hens that couldn’t reach food or water. The Humane Society said battery cages can trap hens by their wings, necks, legs and feet in the wire;

• Hens with broken bones. The HSUS said it documented workers who yanked young hens from their cages or slammed battery cage doors shut on the birds’ wings, legs and necks. Those treatments caused the hens’ bones to break;

• Hens with eye and beak infections. In some cases, the hens had abscesses that caused their eyes to close and beaks and mouths to swell;

• High death rates.

• The HSUS said its undercover investigator pulled dead young hens, some of them mummified and rotting for weeks, from cages every day;

• Inhumane “depopulation methods.” The HSUS said it documented workers who grabbed hens by their legs and crammed them into gassing carts. The birds were then killed with carbon dioxide.

The Iowa egg producing farms highlighted in the HSUS’s investigation house about 10 million caged hens, the organization said. One facility had 18 structures that each confined approximately 300,000 birds.

Deeply troubling

“Our investigation is a deeply troubling indictment of the battery cage egg industry in America, specifically implicating two of its top three egg producers,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. “Misery and suffering are standard at these facilities, and this investigation reveals that animals simply cannot be properly cared for in facilities of this size and type.”

Humane Society officials advocate switching from these caged living conditions for hens nationwide to cage-free environments — a move they say will reduce the likelihood of salmonella contamination in the egg industry and increase the humane treatment of the birds.

On egg producing farms across the country, the Humane Society said there are now about 280 million hens confined to cages so small the birds can’t spread their wings, walk, or even lay eggs in nests.

“The extreme confinement enables farms to cram hundreds of thousands of birds under a single roof,” Dr. Greger told us. “And when you have hundreds of thousands of birds you have a high volume of contaminated fecal dust, which is one way that salmonella spreads.

“The massive manure pits (on these farms) are also breeding grounds for flies and maggots and are implicated in the spread of salmonella.”

Properly cleaning and disinfecting the cages in these facilities is all but impossible, Dr. Greger said.

“The problems we’re now seeing (with salmonella) are intrinsic to caging,” he said. “You can’t disinfect between flocks so when you put in a new flock (in the cages) they are instantly re-infected.

“Imagine a football field-sized shed filled with rows of cages that are stacked high,” Dr. Greger added. “How do you clean all that equipment? Even with gold standard equipment, you can’t sterilize all the cages and the facilities. There are too many nooks and crannies.”

Ten studies have also found that hens forced to live in confined cages have much higher rates of salmonella than birds in cage-free environments, the Humane Society said. A 2010 study revealed that caged flocks are 20 times more likely to have salmonella infections than cage-free hens.

Cage-free movement

The cage-free alternative movement is gaining support from consumers, politicians, and even religious leaders across the country and around the world.

Michigan and California have passed legislation to phase out cages for laying hens, the Humane Society said. Agriculture leaders in Ohio have also agreed to a moratorium on the construction of new cage egg facilities. And the European Union will ban barren battery cages starting in 2012.

On Tuesday, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, condemned caged facilities for laying hens.

“The abuse we inflict on hens has always been particularly disturbing to me and I have always been particularly concerned toward how these animals are treated in industrial food production,” he wrote in a statement. “I am troubled to learn about the practice of confining egg laying hens in tiny cages. In these cages, birds cannot engage in their natural behaviours, such as spreading their wings, laying eggs in a nesting area, perching, scratching at the ground, even standing on a solid surface. Each hen has less space to live than the very sheet of paper I have written this letter on.

“Turning these defenseless animals into egg-producing machines with no consideration for their welfare whatsoever is a degradation of our own humanity,” the Dalai Lama added. “Switching to cage-free eggs would reduce the suffering of these animals.”

But how can consumers ensure they’re buying eggs produced on cage-free farms?

Check the labels on the cartons, Dr. Greger said. “Consumers can be assured the eggs didn’t come from hens confined to unsanitary conditions if the cartons states they’re USDA organic eggs,” he said.

Consumers should also buy from local farmers. “Go to your local farmers markets and establish a relationship with the farmers,” Dr. Greger said. “They should welcome you to their farms. If they don’t want you there, that should tell you something.”

Many retailers, restaurants, and supermarkets across the country are now switching to cage-free eggs, Dr. Greger said. Those businesses include Sara Lee, Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Starbucks, Wolfgang Puck, Burger King, Denny’s, Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, Subway, Quiznos, Wal-Mart, Costco, Harris Teeter and Safeway.

“What we say to consumers is they can vote with their wallets and choose to support the more hygienic and humane cage-free producers,” Dr. Greger said.

Back in Iowa, Hillandale Farms said it is committed to addressing all issues raised by the FDA and plans to be “in full compliance as soon as possible.”

Wright County Egg said most of the issues tagged by FDA inspectors have been addressed or will be soon. “We anticipate the expeditious completion of nearly all remaining items by mid-September,” the company said in a statement.


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Related Article:

Undercover Investigation At Hy-Line Hatchery

Thrown, dropped, mutilated, and ground-up alive. This is the disturbing reality faced by hundreds of thousands of chicks each day at the world’s largest egg-laying breed hatchery Hy-Line International in Spencer, Iowa.

New hidden camera footage obtained at this facility during a Mercy For Animals undercover investigation gives a disturbing glimpse into the cruel and industrialized reality of modern hatcheries.

The warm, comforting, and protective wings of these newly hatched chicks’ mothers have been replaced with massive machines, quickly moving conveyor belts, harsh handling, and distressing noise. These young animals are sorted, discarded, and handled like mere cogs in a machine.

For the nearly 150,000 male chicks who hatch every 24 hours at this Hy-Line facility, their lives begin and end the same day. Grabbed by their fragile wings by workers known as “sexers,” who separate males from females, these young animals are callously thrown into chutes and hauled away to their deaths. They are destined to die on day one because they cannot produce eggs and do not grow large or fast enough to be raised profitably for meat. Their lives are cut short when they are dropped into a grinding machine tossed around by a spinning auger before being torn to pieces by a high-pressure macerator.

Over 21 million male chicks meet their fate this way each year at this facility.

For the surviving females, this is the beginning of a life of cruelty and confinement at the hands of the egg industry. Before even leaving the hatchery they will be snapped by their heads into a spinning debeaker a portion of their sensitive beaks removed by a laser. Workers toss and rummage through them before they are placed 100 per crowded box and shipped across the country.

The callous disregard for animal welfare at this facility is not isolated. In fact, the conditions documented during this investigation are completely standard and acceptable within the commercial egg industry. Referred to by Hy-Line corporate leaders as mere “genetic products,” these chicks are treated just as they are viewed as inanimate objects, rather than the sentient creatures they are.

Driven by consumer demand, the egg industry will continue to exploit, abuse, and kill day-old animals as long as doing so remains profitable. Empowered consumers can put their ethics on the table by choosing kindness over cruelty at each meal by adopting an animal-friendly vegan diet.

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