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General News    H3'ed 4/5/09

New England Raid Is New Blow To Egg Industry--in time for Easter

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Message Martha Rosenberg
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It takes a lot to get state agriculture officials to raid an established farm in the company of state police. But that's what the Maine Department of Agriculture did to Quality Egg of New England and Maine Contract Farming in Turner, ME on April 1 with a search warrant and in consultation with Androscoggin County prosecutors.

For eight hours law enforcement and agriculture officials entered the ammonia reeking barns on Plains Road where 3 million laying hens are stacked on top of each other over manure pits, gathering photos, shooting video and removing dead and living hens for evidence. The live hens had to be euthanized said state veterinarian, Don Hoenig.

Quality Egg of New England, registered to Mountain Hollow Farms, a division of Radlo Foods and the former infamous DeCoster Egg Farm produces 21 million eggs a week.
Yet to hear their customers tell it, not one of the eggs from the facility where live hens were kicked into manure pits and left to hang by their feet or suffocate in garbage cans went to their stores.

Eggs from the raided farm, stamped 1183 or 1203, were found at Shaw's, Hannaford and Wal-Mart by the Sun Journal yet Shaw's, Hannaford's and customer Stop & Shop denied doing business with Quality Eggs. Hello?

Even Eggland's Best--which has three dedicated barns at one Turner facility site where it feeds hens vegetarian food and whose truck can be seen during the raid--denies doing business with Quality Eggs! P.S. Its birds are just as abused.

Take one look at the video and photos click here captured by Mercy For Animals (MFA), a national animal protection group, from December 2008 through February 2009 and you'll see why the grocery stores are lying.

Barely live birds, their beaks oozing, limbs useless and unable to hold their heads up are kept alive to lay one more "incredible, edible" egg for Quality Egg factory farmers. Oblivious, $7.25-an-hour workers twist hens' necks in incomplete "euthanasia," casting them aside to flap on the floor in the death sequelae which is painful to watch.

Nor is the diary of the MFA investigator upon whose evidence the Department of Agriculture's raid was based, pretty.

"A hen's head and wing were trapped under the cage's front wall. One of her legs was stretched out and would not move or bend. She had a gash on her right side, leaving the skin split open and mostly yellow inside. A gash on her left side was red from fresh blood with a layer of dust partially covering the wound," writes the investigator. "Another live hen, also trapped under her cage's front wall, had the side of her face on a moving egg belt. I saw that the side of her face, including her eye, was encrusted in what appeared to be egg yolk and dust."

Even point and click bloggers were turned off. "Seeing how awful these hens look. there hair falling out, and green stuff coming out of there eyes and nose. Are the eggs safe even to eat?" wrote Bob on the Sun Journal site. "I wouldnt think so." Say that.

But even as state vet Don Hoenig told a state agricultural committee workshop in Augusta that conditions were "deplorable, horrifying and upsetting,"-- the search warrant has been turned over to Franklin County Assistant District Attorney Andrew Robinson as egg-laying hens are protected by Maine's animal cruelty laws--Quality Eggs Compliance Manager Bob Leclerc said shucks it wasn't that bad.

Not only was the situation "isolated incidents committed by a couple of employees," said Leclerc, "none of these incidents were ever brought to the attention of management before."

Au contraire. MFA video shows management briefed, repeatedly, about the ongoing animal mistreatment--they said to ignore it-- including Jay DeCoster, the owner's son. Oops.

Leclerc also noted that Quality Eggs adheres to United Egg Producer guidelines--which permit battery cages and other cruelty and are largely the reason California's Proposition 2 passed by such a large margin--and promised the egg farm will conduct is own investigation.

Maybe they'll discover they have 3 million hens packed together so tightly they can't move with no vet or humane care.

While eggs can be produced more humanely, they are also an unnecessary food item say many animal welfare groups.

As protein, the cholesterol "grenades" contribute to strokes, heart attacks and diabetes. And as a filler ingredient in food production they are easily replaced as proved by Kraft Foods' high-growth meat alternative brand Boca Foods which announced in March it was going egg free.

It may have even gotten some new customers.

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)

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