New England's largest egg farm has become the target of an undercover Humane Society investigation.
Video captured by an undercover worker appears to show egg-laying hens living in filth, with rodents and decomposing chicken carcasses in cages at Hillandale Farms in Turner, Maine.
"The facilities are horrendous," said Humane Society Vice President of Farm Animal Protection Paul Shapiro. "The problems are rampant, and we documented exactly what we saw."
The HSUS undercover worker alleges the decomposing chicken corpses were kept in cages with live chickens for weeks, and that the hens were kept in cages so tight, the birds could not extend their wings. The worker also says birds were often trapped by the necks and wings, caught on rusty wires, unable to access food or water.
The Humane Society is requesting state and federal officials launch an investigation into egg farm, which is owned by Jack DeCoster. The DeCoster family has repeatedly plead guilty to, and paid fines for workplace safety violations. Father and son Jack and Peter DeCoster, may even serve jail time for a salmonella outbreak in 2010 that sickened thousands of people.
"Considering the sordid history of this particular facility, and the gruesome images in this video, we hope they'll take it seriously," said Shapiro.
A spokesperson for the Maine Department of Agriculture acknowledged that the department has received the complaint, and is "taking the matter seriously."
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In a prepared statement, a spokesperson for Hillandale Farms said the following: "At Hillandale Farms, we take great pride in the quality of eggs we produce, and have high standards for hen care and egg safety.
"When we took over management of the Maine farms last July, we were aware the barns were aging. Since then, we have invested in equipment and process upgrades to enhance our production operations, as well as expanded training for our team members.
"We reviewed the video, and we are investigating the practices in the barns where this footage may have been captured to ensure this is addressed immediately. 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.
"We have engaged our farm veterinarian, food safety and quality assurance teams to 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."
Vendors visiting the farm Tuesday defended Hillandale, and said the Decoster family is not involved in the daily operations.
"[Hillandale] is always very strict on the rules, aware of employees and safety," said Russ Schmelzer, who does packaging for the egg farm. He told necn he has never observed chickens living in the conditions depicted in the HSUS video.
The Humane Society is urging consumers to purchase cage-free eggs, and is collecting signatures to create a ballot referendum question in Massachusetts that would prohibit the sale of eggs and other animal products that come from "extreme cage confinement."