Paul Shapiro, vice president for farm animal protection with the society, described the footage as part of a Humane Society of the United States investigation and “whistle-blowing operation.”

The society called on state and federal agencies to investigate the farm and said it had contacted officials within the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The farm, while owned by DeCoster, is operated under a long-term lease by the Pennsylvania-based Hillandale Farms and is one of the largest egg farms in New England.

Shapiro said the footage was obtained by an egg farm worker in the spring of 2016.

The farm “has a sordid record of violations,” Shapiro said. “(It’s) owned by the notorious egg industry criminal Jack DeCoster, who is currently appealing his sentence to federal prison for his role in the nation’s largest recall.”

Shapiro said there were 4 million chickens at the farm. In the fall of 2015, however, Maine officials told the Sun Journal there were 2 million birds on the farm.

“We reveal hideously cruel and inhumane conditions, including birds who are trapped in cages that are so cramped they are unable even to spread their wings. Each bird in this operation has less space than a single sheet of paper on which to live for her entire life,” Shapiro said. 

In a statement to the media Tuesday, Melanie Wilt, a spokeswoman for the farm, said they were reviewing the video footage, “and we are investigating the practices in the barns where this footage may have been captured to ensure this is addressed immediately.”

Wilt added, “The worker who shot the video did not meet Hillandale’s standard of care and is no longer employed by us. For example, it is our practice that any mortality be removed from cages within a day.” 

Wilt said the company’s veterinarian, food safety and quality assurance teams would “act swiftly to assure that we meet or exceed all animal health and food safety guidelines. In addition, we have reached out proactively to ask the Maine Department of Agriculture to conduct an immediate inspection.”

Among other things, the secretly filmed footage shows dead and injured birds, with some corpses being left in their cages so long they had become mummified.

“One worker told our investigator that when the corpses get to be that decayed and flattened, it means they have been in the cage for months,” Shapiro said.

The Humane Society of the United States said its investigation revealed:

• Hens forced to share their cages with the decaying carcasses of their dead cage mates. Some dead birds were mummified and stuck to the wire-cage floor.

• Hens found trapped by their necks, wings and feet in rusty wire cages.

• Hens in bottom cages covered in other birds’ waste.

• Poisoned rodents found in hens’ cages.

The Humane Society on Tuesday presented Dr. Joann Lindenmayer, a veterinarian and public health expert, who said she saw a variety of serious concerns in the video footage.

Lindenmayer said that beyond the concerns for animal welfare, she was worried that the conditions in the barns in question could lead to health issues, including salmonella outbreaks in humans.

“I have to say that I’m appalled, as a veterinarian who took an oath to protect and promote the welfare of animals, but also the safety of public health,” Lindenmayer said. “I’m appalled at what I see in this video.” 

She said the barns in Turner were a holdover from an era of farming that started in the 1940s and 1950s and employed methods that were focused mostly on making money.

“The main driver here was profit and not animal welfare,” Lindenmayer said. “I think we have gone far too far in the opposite direction now, thinking about concerns about profits and not enough concerns about animal welfare.”

Lindenmayer said the University of Pennsylvania Animal Science Department recently published a report that studied the conditions and risk factors at farms that led to salmonella in humans.

She said the footage and investigation at the Turner farm is replete with examples of those conditions, including extremely large flocks of birds.

Lindenmayer said salmonella is blamed in more than 60,000 hospitalizations and nearly 400 deaths each year in the U.S., based on data available at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Turner farm sells eggs to hundreds of grocery stores across New England.

Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry spokesman John Bott said the department estimates there are between 2 million and 3 million birds in the Turner farm’s 70 barns.

Bott confirmed that the state has been asked to investigate the farm for mistreatment of its birds.

“The (department) takes allegations of this nature very seriously and has contacted HSUS in order to gather the information needed to conduct an inquiry and respond to their request,” Bott said in a prepared statement.

DeCoster is appealing a federal conviction for violations related to an Iowa salmonella outbreak in 2010. 

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Humane Society of the U.S. report on Turner egg farm

Cracking the egg terminology code

Farm-fresh or all-natural

These are marketing terms; they have no official meaning whatsoever. They are used to conjure a wholesome impression of the product for the consumer, like the picture of a farm might. Disregard these words — and any images of bucolic fields, for that matter.

Cage-free, free-range or pasture-raised

These labels pertain to the way the egg-laying hens are treated.

* Cage-free means the birds are housed in barns where they can walk freely, rather than being confined to cages. However, the density — the number of birds in a certain space — is not regulated.

* Free-range means they are not only uncaged, they also have at least some access to the outdoors. 

* And pasture-raised hens are kept outdoors for most of the year and brought indoors at night for protection.

The issue is that there is no mandatory regulation of these terms for egg production. To ensure that these claims are verifiable, that someone is literally watching the hen house, look for products with third-party certifications such as “Certified Humane” or “Animal Welfare Approved.”

Organic

Eggs with the USDA Organic seal come from hens that are raised on organic feed (grown without synthetic pesticides, fungicides or fertilizers) and are free-range (uncaged with outdoor access). Facilities are checked by accredited inspectors.

Hormone-free or antibiotic-free

Hormones or antibiotics are not used in egg production, so these claims are irrelevant, akin to seeing a “fat-free” sticker on a banana.

Vegetarian-feed

This means the chicken’s feed contains no animal byproducts. But because the bird’s natural behavior is to forage for insects, it also implies they have not spent time feeding outdoors.

Pasteurized

These eggs are heated until just below the temperature at which they coagulate so they can be used in recipes that call for raw eggs, like many Caesar dressings, for example.

Omega-3

Eggs enhanced with this good-for-you fat come from hens whose feed is spiked with omega-3 rich ingredients such as flaxseed, marine algae or canola. The eggs contain anywhere from 100 mg to 600 mg omega-3 each, whereas a regular egg has about 30 mg. Although this may offer some benefit, it’s worth noting that the predominant type of omega-3 in eggs is a form that is the considerably less potent (ALA) than that found in fish (DHA and EPA).

Grade

There are three grades bestowed upon eggs by the U.S. Agriculture Department as part of a voluntary quality program: AA, A and B. Grade AA is best, with thick, firm whites, high, round yolks and clean, unbroken shells. Grade A eggs, most commonly found in stores, have the same qualities as AA, but with slightly less firm whites. Grade B, rarely sold retail, are primarily used in prepared egg products.

Color

Different breeds of hens lay different colored eggs, so although brown eggs have a certain healthful visual appeal and blue eggs (which have been popping up more markets) are fun to bring home to wow the kids, they are no different from white in their quality, flavor or nutrition.

— By the Washington Post

Where did your eggs come from?

Egg cartons are stamped with a code number identifying their origination plant name and location. A list of codes is maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture online at www.ams.usda.gov.


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