March 11, 2010

Grocers urged to reject eggs from farm

— The Associated Press

Bob Leclerc
click image to enlarge

Bob Leclerc

AP

Nathan Runkle
click image to enlarge

Nathan Runkle

AP

PORTLAND — An animal welfare organization urged distributors and supermarket chains Thursday to stop selling eggs from a Maine farm that's under investigation over allegations of cruelty to animals.

Mercy For Animals sent an investigator to work undercover at the Quality Egg of New England farm in Turner, said Nathan Runkle, the group's executive director. The investigator, equipped with a video camera, got footage of hens in cages so small that they couldn't walk or spread their wings, Runkle said.

He called on supermarket chains and national egg distributors to sever ties with Quality Egg and other farms that keep hens in tiny cages.

Bob Leclerc, Quality Egg's safety and compliance manager, said he found Mercy For Animals' video ''personally abhorrent.'' Some employees shown in the video could face discipline, he said.

''Those are not general or acceptable practices in any way, shape or manner,'' Leclerc said.

Quality Egg was known previously as DeCoster Egg Farm, which was accused of hiring undocumented workers and violating human rights. With 3 million hens and shipments of more than 21 million eggs per week across the Northeast, it is New England's largest egg farm, Leclerc said.

Inspectors with the Department of Agriculture searched at the farm on Wednesday for evidence of animal abuse. A prosecutor with the Franklin County District Attorney's Office said evidence will be reviewed before a decision is made on any charges.

Ohio-based Mercy for Animals took the video and photos from Dec. 16 until Feb. 1 and shared them with authorities.

At a press conference Thursday, Runkle said the group documented workers killing hens by grabbing their necks and swinging them around in circles, workers throwing live hens into trash cans, and birds suffering from broken bones, open wounds and infections.

''It also documents dead birds left to rot and decompose in cages with birds still producing eggs for human consumption,'' he said.

Quality Egg is the seventh egg farm nationwide that Mercy For Animals has investigated, Runkle said. The other farms are in California and Ohio.

Runkle called on The Stop & Shop Supermarket Co., Hannaford Bros., Eggland's Best egg company and Shaw's Supermarkets to stop selling eggs from Quality Egg.

A Stop & Shop spokeswoman said the chain doesn't do business with Quality Egg. Hannaford said it doesn't use Quality Egg eggs in its store-brand cartons, but doesn't control what comes in cartons of national brands. Eggland's Best said it has no direct connection with Quality Egg and its franchisees are required to adhere to animal welfare regulations. A Shaw's spokeswoman said that the chain doesn't use Quality Egg as a supplier, and that its supplier of Eggland's Best brand doesn't either.

Runkle said egg cartons sold by those companies have USDA plant code numbers on them indicating they come from the farm. ''Obviously, somebody's buying eggs from them,'' he said.

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