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.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

WILL WEGMANS EGG FARM BE NEXT?

Lancaster County Egg Farm Is Cited for Animal Cruelty
By Harold Brubaker
Printed in the Philadelphia Inquirer on January 10, 2006

The owner and the manager of a Lancaster County egg farm were charged yesterday with 35 counts of animal cruelty in a case reflecting a national battle between animal-rights advocates and agribusiness over the treatment of laying hens.

Video shot by an animal-rights activist employed at Esbenshade Farms in Mount Joy for 10 days last fall showed hens impaled on loose wires, hens unable to eat or drink because they were entangled in the wire cages, and hens left to die in aisles without food and water.

Johnna Seeton, the Pennsylvania humane society police officer who filed the citations with a district justice in Elizabethtown, described the conditions for the estimated 600,000 laying hens on the farm as "very, very bad."

Seeton is authorized to initiate criminal proceedings in her capacity with the humane society.

Esbenshade Farms, which is among the largest egg producers in Pennsylvania, with nearly 2.3 million hens, had no comment.

The charges brought yesterday are part of campaigns by animal-advocacy groups Compassion Over Killing and the Humane Society of the United States against the egg industry's practice of confining hens in wire cages without nests or room to stretch their wings.

"Every time consumers buy eggs from caged hens, they are supporting animal cruelty," said Erica Meier, executive director of Compassion Over Killing.

United Egg Producers, an industry group whose members are responsible for 90 percent of commercial egg production in the United States, says the modern cage system is the only way to produce enough eggs to meet consumer demand while keeping prices low and protecting the birds' health and welfare.

Eggs from cage-free hens account for just 2 to 5 percent of the market, with the rest coming from caged birds, according to industry and other estimates.

Under pressure from Compassion Over Killing, the Better Business Bureau, and the Federal Trade Commission, United Egg Producers agreed last fall to change the name of its animal-husbandry guidelines - along with the label that goes on certified egg cartons - from "Animal-Care Certified" to "United Egg Producers Certified."

Gene Gregory, senior vice president of United Egg Producers in Alpharetta, Ga., said Esbenshade Farms is not a member of his organization and is not certified.

Even under accepted industry standards, "laying hens are the most intensively confined animals in all of agribusiness," said Paul Shapiro, manager of the Humane Society's factory farming campaign.

As more Americans think about where their food comes from and are willing to pay more for products with special attributes, sales of eggs from cage-free hens are increasing sharply.

"In cage-free, I'm up 20 percent this year," said Nick Sborlini, dairy category manager for Acme Markets. The price difference is substantial, with Acme-brand large eggs selling for $1.39 yesterday in Bala Cynwyd, compared with $3.39 for cage-free eggs from Eggland's Best, which is based in King of Prussia.

As the third-largest egg-producing state in the nation behind Iowa and Ohio, Pennsylvania has a large stake in this shift in the market because of huge investments in cage systems.

Pennsylvania produced 545 million eggs in November from 24.1 million hens, or about 7 percent of the U.S. total of 7.54 billion eggs from 347 million layers, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Pennsylvania companies, such as Westfield Egg Farm in New Holland and Giving Nature Foods in Newtown, are tapping into the growing market for eggs from cage-free hens.

"In the past year, we've had a 30 percent increase," thanks to new accounts, such as Wegman's, said Ronald Rohrer of Westfield.

Westfield has been in business since 1962, and started raising cage-free hens more than 15 years ago. The family-owned company now purchases eggs from 35 small farmers with a total of roughly 300,000 hens in cage-free houses.

Rohrer said a cage-free operation "makes for a healthier bird."

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