Egg farm settlement totals $36,947 in fines and restitution, $100,000 to aid inspections

LEWISTON — Maine Contract Farming will pay $34,674.11 in fines and restitution in response to cruelty to animal charges at one of their egg farms in Turner.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Chickens are packed in crates on a tractor-trailer at the former DeCoster Egg Farms on Plains Road in Turner in this file photo from April 2009.

Maine Contract Farming
Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Austin "Jack" DeCoster, right, sits with Timothy O'Brien, a lawyer representing Maine Contract Farming, LLC, in 10 counts of animal cruelty stemming from an undercover investigation in 2009 by Mercy For Animals at the Turner egg farm. Maine Contract Farming, LLC, has agreed to pay $134,674.11 in fines, restitutions, and aid to inspectors after pleading guilty to the charges.

 The company will also donate $100,000 to the Maine Department of Agriculture to help monitor egg farms in the state. That's designed to improve the lot of egg-laying hens across Maine and prevent situations like those uncovered by an animal rights group at the Turner Egg farm in April 2009.

"These chickens are better off now because of this agreement," Assistant District Attorney Andrew Robinson said.

According to the negotiated settlement between Maine Contract Farming and the state, the company admitted responsibility for 10 counts of animal cruelty. According to the settlement, the company paid $2,500 in fines plus $967.41 in restitution per count —  a total of $25,000 in fines and $9,674.11 in restitution.

It stems from a 2008-2009 hidden camera investigation by animal rights activist group Mercy For Animals. An undercover investigator for the group was hired by the company and documented instances of animals being mistreated and poorly handled. The group posted video from the hidden camera to its website, www.mercyforanimals.org.

The videos led to a state investigation of the egg farm. The Maine Department of Agriculture and its Animal Welfare Program executed a search warrant on April 1, 2009, raiding the Plains Road facility. Workers shot photos and video, and seized both dead and live chickens.

Robinson said the state has been working with Maine Contract Farming since the raid. He filed a complaint in Maine District Court on Friday and presented the settlement to Judge Rick E. Lawrence on Monday morning.

The settlement also requires Maine Contract Farming to give state investigators regular access to their facilities, improve staff training and retain a veterinarian to treat the birds.

Christine Fraser, veterinarian with the state's Department of Agriculture's animal welfare program, said the settlement will mean better treatement for Maine animals. Most importantly, it allows for better monitoring of Maine egg farms going forward.

"In a time of limited budgets, our staff size has been limited," she said. "But this $100,000, I hope this helps give us more hours to do more inspections. If we are out there more often, we'll be able to stop things before they get this bad. We might be able to just give some direction short of it becoming a violation and say, 'Don't do that. Do this instead.'"

Nathan Runkle, director of Mercy for Animals, said the decision was a landmark.

"We've had companies agree to a $100,000 settlement  before, this had the added fines and restitution," Runkle said. "From a financial perspective, it's the largest settlement I've seen."

It's having an impact. Since the investigation, several states have approved bans on battery cages — the kinds used at Maine Contract Farming. Those are wire cages designed to hold five hens, and the Turner farm held roughly 16,000 cages, a total of 81,000 caged chickens in one barn.

Still, Runkle said it points up the need for better animal cruelty laws.

"But every time we go in and do this kind of investigation, we find these abuses," Runkle said. "So it's more than just isolated instances. We hope that showing some of these cases will show just how current laws are and why they need to be changed."

staylor@sunjournal.com

Click here to see the video that Mercy for Animals says they recorded at the Turner egg farm. This video contains graphic imagery and may not be suitable for all audiences.

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Comments

Melissa  Dunn's picture

"Christine Fraser,

"Christine Fraser, veterinarian with the state's Department of Agriculture's animal welfare program, said the settlement will mean better treatment for Maine animals. Most importantly, it allows for better monitoring of Maine egg farms going forward. "In a time of limited budgets, our staff size has been limited," she said. "But this $100,000, I hope this helps give us more hours to do more inspections. If we are out there more often, we'll be able to stop things before they get this bad. We might be able to just give some direction short of it becoming a violation and say, 'Don't do that. Do this instead.'"

i really don't agree with being verbally 'optimistic' out of someone's misfortune and at the cost of the chickens that have been abused... its rather insensitive. i know she had not meant it to be intentional, however she is making it sound like suing was the only way (the only outlet) to getting their side of the job done.

i haven't bought store bought eggs for almost a year now (they are not as fresh as everyone thinks-likewise with meat)... and now i have some chickens of my own so i don't even have to worry about this kind of stuff. its bad enough wondering what else happens to my food before it reaches my table. but i would rather know than not know.

yikes

THANK GOD Kentucky Fried CHICKEN doesn't kill or mutilate their birds

Kevin Murphy's picture

maineiac, Try raising a

maineiac, Try raising a couple of million chickens and see how much kindness you give them. Quality Egg is no different from any of the others and not everyone wants these things hanging around. I plan on eating eggs, chicken, beef etc. Let the tree huggers eat the trees.

Michael Schaedler's picture

Good for our communities

Quality egg farms does a lot of good for our communities. Through putting people to work, paying taxes, and supporting non-profit orgs help others. They may have treated chickens not as good as you would like, but they are not the evil enemy of Maine and it's people.

Deborah Berube's picture

Former Maine: One farm at a

Former Maine: One farm at a time...

Tira Cottrell's picture

This chicken farm is NOT the only one!

This chicken farm is NOT the only one that uses these practices while conducting business. They just happen to be the one that got caught. So if Shaw's and Hannaford boycotted this farm and used someone else, they most likely would be dealing with the same thing. Go to the website, www.mercyforanimals.org and watch what is being done to all types of animals. There is actual video of when they were inside of the egg farm. It is not a video for people with weak stomachs. I no longer live in Maine, but I now have my own chickens for eggs, we raise our own pork, beef, chickens and when it is time to harvest these animals for food, it is done as humanely as possible. While they are being raised, they are treated with love and kindness.

 's picture

this is just the cost of doing business

for the company, nothing will change, except they'll get better at hiding things. Honestly, a fine of several million would have been more appropiate and significant and probably would have led to meaningful changes.

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