A civil settlement against the state's largest egg farm is being called landmark by the animal protection organization whose undercover video led to the investigation and prosecution of the company last year.
"This case graphically illustrates the need for stricter state and federal laws to protect farm animals from abuse and the need for more oversight on factory farms," said Nathan Runkle, executive director of Mercy for Animals.
The national nonprofit animal advocacy organization issued a statement Sunday reporting that a "landmark" civil settlement against Quality Egg of New England will be announced Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. in Lewiston District Court. Originally founded as AJ DeCoster Egg Farms in 1961, the factory farm in Turner was reorganized in 1997 as a limited liability company and is the largest producer of eggs in New England.
Mercy for Animals, an Illinois-based organization that specializes in farm animal abuse and protection cases, filed a formal complaint against the Turner farm with the Animal Welfare Program of the Maine Department of Agriculture in March 2009, asking that civil and criminal charges be brought against the farm and its workers.
That complaint came after a representative of Mercy for Animals worked for Quality Egg without revealing his or her connection to the protection organization and secretly videotaped conditions at the farm between December and February 2008.
State agriculture officials armed with a search warrant raided the Plains Road farm in April 2009 searching for evidence of animal cruelty.
"It shows that the egg industry is incapable of self-regulating itself," Runkle said.
Mercy for Animals' representatives documented “an ongoing pattern of cruelty to animals,” including workers kicking live hens into manure pits, sick and injured birds without apparent veterinary care or humane euthanasia, crowded pens, dilapidated cages and unclean conditions — including extremely decomposed corpses and rotting eggs in cages with live hens producing eggs for human consumption, and hens living with feces caked on them.
According to Maine law, egg-laying hens fall under the protection of Maine’s animal cruelty laws. Franklin County Assistant District Attorney Andrew Robinson was assigned to handle the case.
In its statement, Mercy for Animals reported that the settlement is expected to include admissions of guilt on multiple counts of animal cruelty, a monetary fine and stricter state oversight of the facility.
Runkle said Sunday evening that he is unsure of the exact details of the settlement, but anticipates that the admissions of guilt will be a company-wide admission and not that of specific individuals.
Attempts to reach representatives for Quality Egg on Sunday were unsuccessful.