UPDATE: Humane Society says LePage wrong; state knew about egg farm sting

AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage blasted the Humane Society of the United States Friday over its recently released footage from an undercover operation at a Turner egg farm.

In a letter to the society’s CEO Wayne Pacelle, and released to the media, LePage expressed disappointment and outrage while saying the tactics used to obtain the footage were “deplorable.”

Earlier this week, the society released footage it said showed inhumane treatment of chickens at the state’s largest egg producer, Hillendale Farms in Turner.

On Tuesday, Paul Shapiro, vice president for farm animal protection with the society, said the footage revealed conditions that included dead birds being left in cages for months upon end and conditions in the barns that house the chickens as “hideously cruel.”

The farm is owned by Jack DeCoster and operated by the Pennsylvania-based Hillendale Farms under a long-term lease agreement. DeCoster is also appealing a federal conviction and prison sentence in connection with his role in one of the largest salmonella outbreaks in U.S. history that started at egg farms he owns and operates in Iowa.


DeCoster’s Turner farms also have a long history of controversy and have been the subject of a variety of lawsuits and fines on issues ranging from unsafe working conditions, animal abuse and the illegal use of immigrant labor.

“Because of the manner in which this was brought to our attention, I can only conclude you are more concerned with fundraising than you are about the animals involved; in this case, chickens,” LePage said in his letter to Pacelle.

LePage went on to criticize Pacelle for releasing the undercover footage to the press before contacting state agriculture officials with concerns. LePage also defended the egg farm’s health and safety record with the state.

“Maine can be justifiably proud of its animal welfare laws, which serve as examples for other states around the country,” LePage wrote. “Perhaps you noticed that in 2015, the Animal Legal Defense Fund ranked Maine in the top 5 states for the toughest animal abuse laws (it has done so since 2006 when their rankings started). Better yet, how about this quote from Katie Lisnik, the former Maine State Director for HSUS: ‘Maine’s animal protection laws are ranked as some of the best in the country’.”

LePage also linked the footage from the egg farm to a failed effort by the society to ban bear baiting in Maine via statewide ballot in 2014.

“Your tactics to try to uncover wrongdoing are deplorable in this case, but then again this isn’t the first time you have wasted money on futile efforts,” LePage wrote. “Imagine the good you could have done if you used all the money (over $2.5 million) you spent unsuccessfully on the bear-hunting referendum to support animal rescues and shelters. It really makes people wonder about your real priorities.”

In closing, LePage wrote the society should have called his office instead of going to the press with its footage.

“The Humane Society of the United States should have picked up the phone and called my administration instead of using the press to create uncertainty in the market,” LePage wrote.

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