New England Egg Farm Conditions So Bad, They Sickened State Investigators

How bad were conditions for 3 million laying hens at New England’s largest egg farm, Quality Egg of New England/Maine Contract Farming in Turner, Maine?

So bad that when Maine Department of Agriculture officials raided the factory farm on April 1, four Department workers themselves succumbed to the ammonia filled barns and had to be treated by doctors for burned lungs, missing work.

(No wonder Quality says its barns have “automatic feed and water systems” and “eggs are never touched by human hands.”)

So bad that OSHA is now investigating. (Where were they before?)

So bad that Philadelphia, PA-based Eggland’s Best dropped the farm’s largest franchisee Watertown, ME-based egg giant Radlo Foods which in turn dropped Quality Egg as of May 15 and pledged to go cage free.

Quality Egg, the former DeCoster Egg Farm, though the DeCoster family is still actively involved, has a thirty year history of animal, worker and environmental abuses.

In 1977 farm neighbors filed a $5 million lawsuit because their homes were infested with manure propagating insects.

In 1980, the Labor department charged the farm with employing five 11-year-olds and a 9-year-old.

In 1988 it let 100,000 chickens burn to death in a fire.

In 1996 it was presented with a fine for $3.6 million by the federal government for worker abuses. (Legal assistance lawyer Cesar Britos was overcome by barn ammonia too.)

And in 2001 a cruelty complaint was filed about dead hens intermingled with live ones during transport which the Department of Agriculture has not made public because it needs to be “reviewed and redacted.” (hello?)

But thanks to video from an undercover investigator for Mercy For Animals (MFA), agriculture and law enforcement officials raided Quality Egg for eight hours on April 1–with a search warrant and in the company of State Police troopers.

Like all battery cage operations, the 1,700-acre Quality Egg facility confines millions of hens in tiny cages in which they can’t walk, fully spread their wings or engage in other basic biological behaviors for over a year until they are rewarded with slaughter.

Quality’s seven 700-foot long barns with caged hens stacked on top of each other over manure pits produce 21 million eggs for such household names as Wal-Mart and grocery stores Stop & Shop, Shaw’s and Hannaford’s.

Video from the MFA investigator shows live hens left to hang by their feet over conveyer belts, left to suffocate in garbage cans and left to drown in manure pits which employees kicked them into.

Hens “lucky” enough to remain in their cages hover between life and death, their lungs infected and eyes plastered shut with keratoconjunctivitis lesions from living their whole lives in the ammonia fumes that sickened investigators in a few minutes.

“A hen’s head and wing were trapped under the cage’s front wall. One of her legs was stretched out and would not move or bend. She had a gash on her right side, leaving the skin split open and mostly yellow inside. A gash on her left side was red from fresh blood with a layer of dust partially covering the wound,” writes the investigator in his diary.

“Another live hen, also trapped under her cage’s front wall, had the side of her face on a moving egg belt. I saw that the side of her face, including her eye, was encrusted in what appeared to be egg yolk and dust.”

After the raid which was covered by the Associated Press, state and local officials, Quality’s customer/distributors and the grocery stores involved all professed ignorance of the conditions. Right.

Quality Egg Compliance Manager Bob Leclerc noted that Quality adheres to United Egg Producer guidelines — which permit battery cages — and said that none of the incidents were brought to “the attention of management before.”

Maybe he hadn’t yet watched the Mercy For Animals video which shows the investigator pointing out abuse — repeatedly — to other workers and supervisors including to Jay DeCoster, the son of Jack DeCoster. (An employee who was told there were live hens in trash cans he was emptying says, “It don’t matter.”)

A week after the raid — and before expected animal cruelty charges — Leclerc cleaned up the six feet deep manure piles and dying hens at Quality Egg and let the press in.

But it was a little late says Mercy For Animals executive director Nathan Runkle.

The egg industry tries to pretend it’s a few “bad employees” when it’s exposed says Runkle. But in reality the abuse videotaped depicts “standard handling and killing practices used on egg farms across the country. It is systemic, widespread and endemic to caged egg operations.”

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist/cartoonist who writes about public health. Her first book, titled Born with a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp the Public Health, has just been released by Prometheus Books. She can be reached at: Read other articles by Martha.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. kalidas said on April 23rd, 2009 at 1:08pm #

    “Thou shalt not kill” does not apply to murder of one’s own kind only, but to all living beings; and this Commandment was inscribed in the human breast long before it was proclaimed from Sinai. ~Leo Tolstoy

    Though people don’t believe in karma, karma certainly believes in them.

  2. kalidas said on April 27th, 2009 at 1:11pm #

    Why should the oh so wise and uplifting modern day progressives, intellectuals, socially conscious, liberals, religious, etc., etc., listen to the likes of Tolstoy, Shaw, Thoreau, Confucius, da Vinci, Kafka, Plato, Plutarch, Pythagoras, Shelley, Besant, Chavez, Gandhi, Kucinich, Dalai Lama, Krishnamurti, Mahavira, Prabhupada, Swedenborg, Tesla, and on and on?

    You’d think these self indulgent know it alls would at least DO one thing besides opine and whine. One thing which really does matter and which achieves results even if it’s only one person.
    One thing real.
    Something compassionate, environmental, social and spiritual
    All I see and hear is a bunch of hot air, excuses and, pardon my French, BULLSHIT.

  3. bozh said on April 27th, 2009 at 2:23pm #

    yes, except tesla. He was a good physicist. I do not know much of what he said. I know he was an inventor of magnitude.
    one of his best had been the invention [think i] of alternating current.

    while i do not know much if anything about some people you mentioned, i do know that some of the ‘saviors’ [just to mention jesus] were talkers and not doers.
    i have never quoted these people and probably never will.

    these people to me are musers/philosophers and most or perhaps almost all, being afraid to do anything for the oppressed people.

    at least i use my own name when posting. Am i afraid of CIA? Yes, to some degree, because i have wife with alzheimer to look after. tnx

  4. Dawn said on May 18th, 2009 at 4:53am #

    The way animals are treated are horrific.

  5. Holly Willetts said on September 28th, 2009 at 1:52pm #

    Poor babys i’m so ashamed of the people who rase them how can they sleep at night?

  6. Donna said on October 16th, 2009 at 12:12pm #

    I wondered why we get so many double yolked eggs from New England Farms, now I know. I will not be buying that brand again.

  7. mary said on October 16th, 2009 at 1:52pm #

    In the UK we are fortunate to have the Battery Hen Welfare Trust who find homes for these poor abused and exploited creatures, the products of a capitalist system that has gone so wrong, based as it is on greed and profit. In the UK there is a change taking place to buying free range chickens and eggs thanks to many good campaigners although the recession is making them unaffordable for some. A small free range chicken costs £6 and large eggs cost about £2.80 a dozen.