The animal rights group making claims of animal cruelty at a Turner-based egg farm began pushing for a boycott of the farm and its products Thursday.

“The eggs from this farm are easy to find in any store,” said Nathan Runkle, executive director of Mercy for Animals. “You can go and find them yourself.”

Runkle’s group released photographs, video and a diary from a December undercover investigation by one of its members, who claims evidence of animal cruelty at the former DeCoster Egg Farms operation. State agriculture officials spent Wednesday investigating the plant under a search warrant and removing evidence that included chickens, both live and dead.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture maintains a list of egg and poultry farms nationwide. Each egg-processing plant is given a number, which is printed on the cartons of all eggs coming from that plant.

State veterinarian Don Hoenig said officials from the Maine Department of Agriculture issued a search warrant on egg plant 1183, which is operated by Quality Egg of New England LLC. The USDA’s Web site lists that plant as belonging to Mountain Hollow Farms, a division of Radlo Brothers.

That number, 1183, is stamped on every carton of eggs that originates at that plant.

At Shaw’s supermarket on East Avenue in Lewiston on Wednesday, eggs bearing that code were being sold under the Eggland’s Best brand. At Hannaford on Sabattus Street in Lewiston, the store-brand eggs carried that stamp as well. At the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Mount Auburn Avenue in Auburn, eggs bearing that stamp were being sold under the Eggland’s Best Brand and under the Radlo Brothers label.

“So that’s all you have to do, is look for that number on those cartons,” Runkle said. “The evidence is right in front of your eyes.”

The company operates multiple barns in Turner and Leeds. Egg cartons bearing the 1182 stamp originated at another Mountain Hollow Farms plant in the same area. Eggs bearing the 1203 stamp originated at one of Quality Eggs of New England LLC’s other Plains Road operations.

Runkle said he was pressuring Shaw’s supermarket chain to remove the eggs and to stop carrying those from the Turner-based operation. The group is also urging Eggland’s Best, a national egg distributor, to stop carrying eggs from the plant.

Eggland’s Best issued a statement Thursday denying that it has a direct relationship with the Turner-based egg producer.

“Eggland’s Best’s New England-based franchisee is Radlo Foods, which is required to adhere to the company’s stringent animal welfare regulations,” the statement said. “Any violation of these regulations could lead to termination.”

According to the release, the company is conducting an investigation of its own into the matter.

In 1997, after farm workers earned the right to organize a union and the former DeCoster farm was slapped with a series of fines and penalties for employment violations and other infractions, Shaw’s and Hannaford took DeCoster’s eggs off their shelves, pledging not to reintroduce the company’s product until employment and sanitary conditions improved.

Representatives from Shaw’s, Hannaford and Wal-Mart did not return calls Thursday.

Where did those eggs come from?

Egg cartons are stamped with a code number identifying their origination plant name and location. Cartons bearing the stamp 1183 near the expiration date originated at the Radlo Brothers/Mountain Hollow Farms on Plains Road in Turner where state officials Wednesday issued search warrant to investigate claims of animal cruelty.

The United States Department of Agriculture maintains a list of all of the codes referring to egg and poultry plants nationwide on its Web site at www.ams.usda.gov.

The list is also reachable via this link: http://tinyurl.com/d3tkam.


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