Factory-farmed egg-laying hens, perhaps the most abused, exploited, and overlooked animals on the planet, finally got their day in court yesterday morning.
In a Lewiston, Maine courtroom on Monday, the owner of Quality Egg of New England (QENE), one of the largest egg producers in the nation, pleaded guilty to 10 civil counts of cruelty to animals. As part of a landmark civil settlement, stemming from a Mercy For Animals undercover investigation, the factory farm also agreed to pay over $130,000 in fines and restitution, as well as hand over authority to the state of Maine to conduct unannounced inspections of the factory farm for the next five years.
The settlement breaks new ground in the battle to protect farmed animals - leveling perhaps the largest financial penalty in United States history against a factory farm on grounds of animal cruelty.
The historic agreement is the result of a 2008-2009 MFA investigation at the factory farm, which exposed shocking cruelty to egg-laying hens, including:
- Workers and managers killing birds by grabbing their necks and swinging them around in circles - attempts to break their necks which often resulted in prolonged, torturous deaths for the hens.
- Supervisors and workers throwing live birds into trash cans.
- Birds suffering from broken bones, bloody open wounds, untreated infections and uterine prolapses.
- Hens confined four to six in tiny wire cages so small they were unable to stretch their wings, move freely or engage in other basic behaviors.
- Birds trapped in the wire of their cages or under the feeding trays without access to food or water.
- Rotting carcasses in cages with live hens still laying eggs for human consumption.
During the time of MFA's investigation, QENE was certified by the United Egg Producers' (UEP) voluntary animal care program. Yesterday's plea of guilty to 10 counts of cruelty to animals is further evidence that the UEP program fails to prevent cruelty and abuse.
Numerous veterinarians and animal welfare experts have harshly condemned the conditions documented at QENE. Dr. Temple Grandin, perhaps the world's leading expert on farmed-animal welfare and an advisor to the USDA, stated "[T]he place is a filthy, disgusting mess and very poorly maintained."
The findings of MFA's latest egg facility investigation are similar to those documented at numerous egg farms across the country in recent years - illustrating that animal neglect and abuse are the egg industry standard, not the exception.
As consumers we can choose compassion over cruelty at every meal. Adopting a compassionate vegan diet is one of the best actions we can take to prevent needless animal suffering and end the conditions documented during this investigation.