Results from an undercover investigation by an animal rights group into practices at an egg farm in Maine have been forwarded to state and federal authorities.

The Humane Society of the United States wants state and federal regulators to investigate Hillandale Farm’s shell egg production facility at 272 Plains Road in Turner.

The organization claims that egg-laying hens are being treated cruelly at New England’s largest egg producer and conditions at the plant have raised serious food safety concerns.

The Humane Society says in its complaint to officials at the Maine Department of Agriculture – dated June 2 – that the plant produces eggs from battery-caged hens and that those eggs are sold at stores throughout New England under several different brand names.

“Given the facility’s history of noncompliance with federal and state laws and regulations and the concerning evidence found by the Humane Society investigation, we urge the Maine Department of Agriculture to fully investigate the conditions at the facility,” the complaint reads.

John Bott, who serves as spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening. The Humane Society is making reference to numerous previous violations found at the Turner facility owned by Jack DeCoster.

A 2011 investigation by the state of Maine found nearly a dozen animal cruelty violations for which the company paid nearly $135,000 in fines and restitution. Over the past two decades, the farm’s management has been cited for violations of workers rights, and environmental, health and safety regulations.

Still photographs and videos of the Turner plant’s cages have been posted on the Humane Society’s website. The undercover operation took place between April 20 and May 20.

“As you can see in our video, our investigator documented a veritable house of horrors,” Humane Society President and CEO Wayne Pacelle wrote in his blog. Pacelle said DeCoster owns the facility, which he leases to Hillandale Farms.

“Scores of mice run through the aisles of the chicken barns. There are large numbers of dead and dying mice in the chicken barns and even in the cages with the chickens,” the Humane Society complaint states.

Melanie Hilt, a spokeswoman for Hillandale Farms, issued a press release from the company saying it has already asked the Maine Department of Agriculture to perform an inspection and verify their claim that the Turner egg operation is run properly.

“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,” said the company in a prepared statement released Tuesday afternoon. “In addition, we have reached out proactively to ask the Maine Department of Agriculture to conduct an immediate inspection.”

“At Hillandale Farms, we take great pride in the quality of eggs we produce, and have high standards for hen care and egg safety,” the company said.

According to its website, Hillandale Farms is one of the nation’s leading suppliers of eggs to retailers and distributors throughout the United States.

Orland Bethel founded the company in 1958 in Flushing, Ohio. The family owned business is now run by its president, Gary Bethel.

The Humane Society also called upon the federal Food and Drug Administration to investigate the Turner egg farm. The organization’s federal complaint was addressed to Dr. Susan T. Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.


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