The state has released a 25-page, redacted report on its investigation into allegations of animal cruelty at Hillandale Farms’ Turner egg farm, finding no reason to pursue charges and shielding the name of the Humane Society of the United States’ undercover investigator who took videos and photos inside barns last spring.
Gov. Paul LePage called HSUS’ claims “frivolous and false” from the start and said he wanted to change Maine law “so the identities of political operatives cannot be hidden by Freedom of Access statutes.”
Names and motives ought to be clear, LePage wrote in a letter to Maine’s congressional delegation.
“The governor really is extremely confused about our work and this undercover investigation,” said Paul Shapiro, HSUS’s vice president for farm animal protection. “Just to be frank, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Last June, HSUS announced it had footage showing hens sharing cages with dead cagemates, some ignored so long they’d mummified; piled-up manure; and major mice problems.
The farm is owned by Jack DeCoster but run by Hillandale in a long-term lease. DeCoster has a long, checkered history within the egg industry.
HSUS formally complained to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry about the conditions a few days before releasing its footage in June.
The state report by Angela Young, a district humane agent in the Animal Welfare Program, outlines interviews with HSUS employees and the contract investigator hired by HSUS to get a job at the state’s largest egg farm after the society, it said, was approached by a whistle-blower about conditions there.
State statute protects the name of any informant in an animal cruelty case.
“(Redacted) was chosen as the investigator due to (redacted’s) animal handling experience as well as (redacted) history as an Animal Control Officer,” according to the report.
The state followed those interviews with a surprise inspection on July 26.
Young wrote that after reviewing everything with Androscoggin County Assistant District Attorney Lisa Bogue in late October there wasn’t evidence to support cruelty charges and Young closed the case.
“We’re not surprised that (the Maine Department of Agriculture) was unable to substantiate activist claims,” a Hillandale Farms spokeswoman said Wednesday. “Hillandale Farms takes great pride in the quality of eggs we produce and have high standards for hen care and egg safety.”
In his letter to the delegation, LePage said that he thought HSUS’s allegations were “nothing more than a ploy … to increase publicity for an initiative HSUS was pushing in Massachusetts that would ban the sale of food products from farms that hold animals in cages.”
“Make no mistake, this was not a whistle-blower case,” Le Page wrote. “We call on our congressional delegation to prevent the use of ‘whistle-blower’ status for political operatives who are paid to purposely defame an organization.”
Shapiro said he was disappointed that the state decided not to pursue charges. He wasn’t sure whether the group would revisit the Turner farm.
“The video speaks for itself, and it speaks volumes,” he said.