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.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Chicken Coop Film Used Against Director

An Animal Rights Activist Hoped to Shed Light on Conditions at Egg Farm but Got Burned by His Own Tape


May 10, 2006 — Adam Durand is a graphic designer and animal rights activist who is now best known as the unlikely director of the most controversial video around Rochester, N.Y.

Durand and two women planned to sneak into a gigantic egg farm, owned by Wegman's, a Rochester grocery chain, to document what they believed to be the poor conditions inside.

Durand said it was a cold, rainy night when they crawled through a hole in a wire fence. Durand said they knew that what they were doing was illegal.

"At the time, we weren't thinking about the legal consequences. We were just concerned about getting the best footage we could … there's no other way to show people what happens," he said.

That night and two other nights later, Durand taped the conditions while the women described what they saw.

"We had no idea what to expect," Durand said. "We were blown away."

The disturbing images Durand shot include a chicken with its head caught between bars and another trapped in a pile of manure.

Durand said their intention was only to document, not to destroy property. They ended up finding what they thought were sickly hens trapped in manure pits below the egg-laying house.

"We just couldn't leave them behind, so yes, we brought hens out of the facility," Durand said.

Durand made the tape into a film, convinced that when the world saw what he shot, there would be action and that the supermarket chain would be punished for the way it raised its hens. He was thrilled when his work, called "Wegman's Cruelty," was shown at a local theater.

Does Punishment Fit the Crime?

The footage did indeed lead to a prosecution — not of Wegman's but of Durand.

Wayne County District Attorney Richard Healy said that while the images Durand shot may be distasteful, a few injured hens out of close to a million at the farm did not prove negligence or provide any reason to charge Wegman's with a crime.

"The tape pretty much told us most of what we needed to know," Healy said.

When Durand and his cohorts publicly identified themselves in the film as the ones who snuck into the egg farm, Healy said Wegman's wanted them to pay.

Wegman's, which questions if all the footage was actually shot on its farm, would not talk to "Primetime" on camera. But in a statement on its Web site, the company said its farm is considered "one of the best in the country" and that when Durand broke in, he "put our hens at risk" by possibly tracking in disease.

Durand figured he might face trespassing charges — a misdemeanor crime. But when the grand jury heard the case, it came back with much more serious charges: felony burglary for breaking in and taking chickens out of the egg farm. Durand would face up to seven years behind bars if convicted of those charges.

Eric Schneider, Durand's original lawyer, said the punishment was way out of proportion to the crime.

"It seems thus far that the prosecution in this case is deferential to this corporation," Schneider said.

And the lawyer said he was confident the judge would let the jury see Durand's tape, which Schneider thought would ultimately work in his client's favor.

Durand said that he, too, hoped that a jury would see things his way. "That they say, you know, it's obvious that they're on the wrong side of the law here, but that they did it for the right reasons, and we can't hold them accountable for all of this stuff," Durand said.

And that's about what happened — just last week, with a new team of lawyers representing him in court, a jury saw some of Durand's footage and acquitted him on all but the criminal trespassing charges.

Durand still wants to change the way those hens are raised, but thanks to his video, he won't be locked in a cage of his own for his efforts.


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