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 Scratch

Syracuse New Times, 5/10/06

Eighteen months after first sneaking onto Wegmans Egg Farm in Wolcott, capturing video footage of the farm and rescuing several hens, animal rights activist Adam Durand has been convicted of trespassing but acquitted of eight other counts of petit larceny and burglary. Wegmans' response to the verdict, in a statement forwarded to The New Times, is that "they are very glad this chapter in a nearly two-year saga has ended." Still, Durand said the campaign to get Wegmans to change practices on their egg farm is far from over.

The statement, forwarded by Wegmans representative Jo Natale, also said, "We're pleased with the conviction on the trespassing charges, and although we're disappointed in the other decisions, we do respect the finding of the jury."

Durand said the most surprising of the findings is the jury's acquittal on the petit larceny charge. "In order to acquit on those {three charges of petit larceny}, the jury had to determine that {the chickens} were completely worthless to the company. Basically that they were completely neglected by Wegmans. If you follow the letter of the law, this looks like pretty straightforward petit larceny."

According to Durand, during his lawyer Len Egert's closing arguments, Egert showed still images from Durand's video Wegmans Cruelty and asked, "Does this look like valuable property to you?" During the trial, Wegmans Egg Farm manager Jason Wadsworth estimated the value of a hen to the company to be $2.80.

Durand and the other activists involved in the incursions into Wegmans Egg Farm are the main members of a Rochester animal rights group Compassionate Consumers, which produced the film and raised money to pay legal fees for the group as well as continued to organize against Wegmans while the trial was pending. The group asserts that Wegmans Egg Farm practices, while not legally considered animal abuse, are inhumane. They are asking Wegmans to switch to "cage-free" eggs that are farmed in more hospitable conditions than the minimum 67 cubic inches allotted to each hen in the battery cage system Wegmans employs.

Durand said his lawyers Egert and Amy Trakinski, of New York City, tried to mount a "justification defense," that Durand's actions of taking hens out of the facility for medical treatment were justified by the crippled and dying state they were in. But the judge refused to allow it. Instead they successfully argued that the charges of theft were moot because the property--in this case, chickens--was of such little value to Wegmans.

While the campaign against Wegmans Egg Farm has been on hold awaiting the verdict in Durand's case, Syracuse-based Community Animal Project organizer Shawn DeLeo said CAP, Compassionate Consumers and organizations in other cities where Wegmans has stores will be stepping up pressure to force the company to abandon the battery cage system. "Because they own their own egg farm they have the power to change," DeLeo said. "We're asking them to adopt certified humane standards and because they're normally such a progressive company, there's no excuse not to."

DeLeo, along with Compassionate Consumers and local animal rights groups, has organized screenings of Wegmans Cruelty in Syracuse and other cities, weekly demonstrations at Central New York stores and an East Coast tour of demonstrations at Wegmans locations. Durand said plans for how his group will continue to pressure Wegmans are up in the air. "The question we're asking right now is 'How can you top a trial?' I'm not interested in another trial but we're making plans. We're trying to build our base of activists on this issue in other cities where there are Wegmans stores," he said.

Durand was pleased with the media coverage of his trial, with The New York Times sending a reporter and many papers picking up an Associated Press article about his case last week. He was somewhat surprised that Rochester's Democrat and Chronicle didn't send their own reporter, however, and noted that the Gannett publication refused to run an ad purchased by Animal Rights International showing a decomposed chicken and text that read, "Did Your Wegmans Egg Share a Cage With a Corpse?" The Post-Standard didn't pick up the AP item or run their own story about the trial, either.

Durand also noted that ABC News has prepared a piece about him for the "Caught on Tape" portion of their Prime Time broadcast that is tentatively scheduled to run Thursday, May 11, 10 p.m., on WSYR-Channel 9, although it was bumped once before, by an interview with Tom Cruise. Despite being pre-empted by celebrity news, Durand is hopeful the attention will force Wegmans to reconsider their practices.

"People who see the movie really feel like they've been in the dark and they want to do something about it," he said. "People seem to be caring more about the welfare of chickens these days."

--Justin Park

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