With more than 2 million birds, the Hillandale Farms-run property is one of the largest egg farms in New England.

Just prior to releasing undercover footage last month, HSUS formally asked both the state and the FDA to investigate the Turner facility. It cited the farm’s history of fines and owner Jack DeCoster’s ties to a major salmonella outbreak, along with the presence this spring of mummified birds, manure oozing from cages and “scores of mice.”

The FDA’s July 19 response, which the humane society released Tuesday, said the agency hadn’t been in the barns since September 2010, when it flagged three issues, including failure to take steps to prevent salmonella.

The FDA letter ends: ” … a return visit to the Hillandale facility is planned.”

“I have a feeling that one inspection per six years may not be sufficient for any operation, let alone one that has a sordid track record of both animal cruelty and food safety problems,” said Paul Shapiro. “I mean, come on. Six years?”

A state agriculture department spokesman said Tuesday that inspectors are in the chicken barns several times a week monitoring food safety and testing for salmonella.

“We’ve had no record of anything that would compromise food safety,” said John Bott, spokesman for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

However, those regular inspections don’t “mean that we’re in every part of the facility looking at every single thing,” he added.

Citing the state’s ongoing investigation in the wake of HSUS’s complaint, Bott couldn’t comment on the frequency of inspections related to animal welfare.

Shapiro said he’d like to see both state and federal inspectors inside the Turner farm.

“The FDA has a special role to play in preventing salmonella outbreaks that can affect consumers in numerous states,” he said. “FDA need not cede its authority to protect consumers to a state department of ag.”

An FDA spokesperson couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

The FDA’s letter, written by Director John Sheehan in the Office of Food Safety’s Division of Dairy, Egg and Meat Products, wrote that “during that (2010) inspection, our investigators noted the following observations:

* Failure to take adequate steps to ensure that there is no introduction or transfer of SE (salmonella enteritidis) into or among poultry houses;

* Failure to maintain records documenting compliance with biosecurity measures;

* Failure to document the monitoring of rodents and other pest control measures.”

It notes that the measures were voluntarily corrected by management and that egg samples came back negative for salmonella. It also incorrectly lists Hillandale as the entity the FDA worked with six years ago; Hillandale signed the long-term lease for the farm last year.

Shapiro said he would continue to follow the state’s investigation and would push Hillandale to convert Turner to a cage-free facility. The company recently announced plans to go cage-free at its other farms, but since it leases the Turner farm, that change doesn’t apply here. 

“It ought to require that any facility it’s doing business with, like this facility, go cage-free as well,” Shapiro said. “Hillandale doesn’t have to do business with (DeCoster). The fact is, virtually every major egg buyer in the country has now announced that it’s only going to buy cage-free eggs (in the future) — Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Costco. If this facility in Maine is not doing that, then Hillandale should seek someone else who will.”

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