Wegmans Cruelty: An Unofficial Blog

This is an unofficial blog and informational archive related to the WEGMANSCRUELTY film and resulting campaign.

Please see that page for more information.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Fired activist blames Wegmans

Woman joined in animal-rights campaign targeting company's egg farm

Corydon Ireland Staff writer

(July 15, 2005) — A Rochester activist on Thursday claimed she was fired from her job as a tax accountant because of her involvement in an animal rights campaign against the Wegmans Egg Farm.

Jodi Chemes of Rochester is spokeswoman for the group Compassionate Consumers, which earlier this month began distributing a DVD documentary that charges the large-scale Wayne County egg operation with animal cruelty.

The 25-year-old was fired Monday and escorted from the downtown Rochester offices of Deloitte & Touche. The Manhattan-based global public accounting company practices in 150 countries.

Deloitte & Touche spokeswoman Deborah Harrington, based in New York City, declined to comment on Chemes. "This is confidential personnel information," she said.

In Rochester, the company does accountancy work for Wegmans Food Markets Inc. — a connection Chemes claims was instrumental in her dismissal."I believe Wegmans pressured them into firing me," she said.

Chemes, a two-year employee of the company, said her work at Deloitte & Touche had no relationship to the Wegmans account.Wegmans spokeswoman Jo Natale confirmed that Deloitte & Touche is the Wegmans' auditing company.

When news accounts of the animal rights documentary surfaced earlier this month, a representative of Deloitte called Wegmans to say "that one of their employees was involved," she said.

After that, "our only request to Deloitte & Touche was to assure us that the security of our information was guaranteed," said Natale. Deloitte's communications policy, dated October 2004, requires that employees make it clear in letters or other communications with the media or government representatives that "they are speaking or writing as individuals."

Chemes, who has a master's degree in accounting, said she did not violate the policy. In her remarks to the media in early July, Chemes did not refer to her employer, though she did at least once identify herself as a "tax accountant."

Compassionate Consumers, a Rochester-based group, has about 20 members. Only four are active members, including Chemes, she said. Three of those — all but Chemes — illegally entered the Wegmans Egg Farm on Wadsworth Road in Wolcott last summer.

They walked through what they said was a hole in the wall of one of the operation's laying houses and during three nighttime visits took video footage that was used in the documentary, Wegmans Cruelty.

Wegmans, aware of the trespass as early as November last year, had been looking for the perpetrators ever since. The company tightened security at the farm, including the addition of improved fencing.

Chemes said she was never part of what Compassionate Consumers calls its "investigations" and has never visited the farm.Wegmans Egg Farm, with 750,000 laying hens and 200,000 younger hens, is the largest such operation in New York. It has 11 laying houses, where lights, ventilation, heating and cooling are computer controlled.

About 20 percent of the state's eggs come from the facility, where on average each hen produces an egg a day. The farm is owned by Wegmans and has been in operation since 1967.

Earlier this month, Wegmans officials said the company would prosecute the three activists for the break-in. But so far no charges have been filed. "We are continuing to research and discuss the matter with the appropriate authorities," said Natale.

Richard Healy, Wayne County district attorney, said State Police have talked to the three group members who admitted on film to entering the laying house. All three asked the police to contact the attorney they share, who was hired before the documentary went public.

"It's at least trespassing, which is a misdemeanor," said Healy. "But we're running into a proof problem," since the tape is the only evidence of the intrusion. In the weeks since the documentary was released on July 2, about 1,200 copies have been downloaded free from the group's Web site, http://www.wegmanscruelty.com/. Another 200 have been sold, at $7 each.

Healy said he has been in touch with Wegmans and will meet with company officials "in a week or two."This weekend, representatives from Compassionate Consumers will distribute 500 free copies of the documentary in Washington, D.C., at the Taking Action for Animals conference, sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States.

This month, other animal rights groups took notice of the Rochester case. The egg farm investigation by Compassionate Consumers brings up conditions that "are revolting to kind people," said Bruce Friedrich, spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a global group based in Norfolk, Va.

Conditions at the Wegmans farm are no different from those at other larg-scale U.S. egg farm operations, activists say. Debeaking birds to prevent injury from aggression and stacking hens in wire-frame "battery cages" are common U.S. industry practices and affect about 280 million laying hens.

These practices are allowed under the guidelines of the "Animal Care Certified" program, endorsed by United Egg Producers, a national industry group and touted by Wegmans on its egg cartons.

"This is cruelty, and it has to stop," said Friedrich, who called information on egg-farming practices "the industry's worst enemy."

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