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, May 05, 2006

Egg farm activist guilty of trespass

Friday, May 05, 2006

By JIM MILLER

Finger Lakes Times

LYONS — Adam Durand trespassed but did not commit burglary or petty larceny when he and other animal rights activists entered Wegmans’ Wolcott egg farm and took 11 hens, a Wayne County jury decided yesterday after an hour’s deliberation.

A burglary conviction could have meant seven years in prison for Durand, 26, president of the Rochester-based group Compassionate Consumers. The maximum sentence for the trespassing charges is 270 days.

District Attorney Richard Healy said the acquittals did not surprise him. “The burglary charge was a difficult charge [to convict him on],” he said.

Standing outside the courtroom after getting pats on the back from his attorneys, a smiling Durand said he felt very relieved.

“I think that the jury saw that we were there to help the hens out [that Wegmans was] neglecting,” he said.

On the stand Tuesday, Durand described hens covered in manure and hens with their necks stuck in cages. The activists went to the farm to make a documentary but decided once inside that some hens were too sick and neglected to leave behind, he said.

In order to convict him on the burglary charges, Healy — who found no evidence of animal cruelty at the farm — had to prove Durand went there with the intent to commit larceny.

Durand and other activists made three nighttime visits to the farm between May and August of 2005 and were charged last year after releasing their documentary, “Wegmans Cruelty.”
Durand said yesterday that he would do it all again.

“The more I go through, the more people hear about this issue,” he said.

Compassionate Consumers will continue its work, said Durand, who hopes to expand the DVD and inform people about the problems he sees with Wegmans’ practices. “No more visits are planned to the [Wegmans’] facility unless they give us permission,” he said.

In his closing argument, defense attorney Leonard Egert urged jurors to focus on the burglary charge and on Durand’s intent. If they believed Durand when he said he’d visited the farm — a fact that was part of Healy’s case against him — they should also believe him when he said he went to the farm to make a movie, not to steal chickens, Egert said.

He held up pictures of sick chickens that Durand said were taken at the farm and told jurors they were what the case was all about.

“This is the so-called property that they’re claiming he intended to steal,” he said. “When you look at this, you have to ask yourself, is that property that has any value [to Wegmans]? ... I would submit that it is not.”

Wegmans, he said, doesn’t want the truth about its farm to come out.

“Should they have walked away from this?” he asked, playing a tape of a hen Durand said he filmed at the farm. “That’s a crime to take her (the hen) out of this miserable, filthy manure pit? ... No way.”

Healy said afterward that jurors must have believed Egert’s arguments. In his own closing, he said the case was not about Wegmans, which he said Egert had tried to put on trial.

“Adam Durand is on trial,” he said. “The issue here is not animal cruelty.”

Durand admitted trespassing and helping to take chickens that did not belong to him, Healy said.
“You took an oath to follow the law, whether you agree with it or not,” he said to the jury.
The case was about the law and applying it fairly, and as long as they stuck to the law, Healy told the jurors, he would be satisfied with their verdict.

Melanie Ippolito and Megan Cosgrove, two other members of Compassionate Consumers who entered the egg farm, previously pleaded guilty to trespassing and petty larceny, both misdemeanors. They were sentenced to three years of probation and 100 hours of community service. Two other activists also entered the farm with Durand but were not charged because the evidence against them wasn’t strong enough, Healy said.

The judge dismissed a criminal mischief charge against Durand before the trial resumed yesterday morning.

• • •

jmiller@fltimes.com

Wegmans offers press tour to fight bad images

By JIM MILLER

Finger Lakes Times

WOLCOTT — After yesterday’s verdict, Wegmans’ representatives gave four reporters a “one-time” tour of their egg farm, marking the first time in at least two years that the company has allowed the press into the fenced facility, which houses 650,000 hens and produces a half-million eggs a day.

Wegmans spokesperson Jeanne Colleluori said the company broke its bio-security protocol and allowed the visit because it wanted to present positive images of the farm to counter the negative ones seen during the trial of one of the animal-rights activists who repeatedly entered a hen house there in 2004.

“Basically, we felt we needed to set the record straight,” said Production Manager Andrew Jason Wadsworth, whose family opened the facility in 1967. “I treat my birds very well.”

The tour included a manure pit that company representatives said was similar to the one the animal-rights activists saw, and two laying houses: One similar to the house the activists entered and one that is more modern.

Reporters were shown the outside of Laying House 14, where the activists say they filmed the DVD “Wegmans Cruelty,” and the vents through which they entered it. But hens no longer live in the house, which company representatives said is scheduled for demolition as part of the farm’s long-term modernization plan.

Since the activists’ visits, the farm has undergone a $500,000 security upgrade, including a barbed-wire perimeter fence and motion sensors.

Wadsworth said Wegmans’ officials aren’t worried about what trespassers might see but what they might bring in; diseases such as avian flu could wipe out the flock.

Employees asked reporters to dip their feet in disinfectant before entering each building and handed out hair nets, plastic shoe-covers and Tyvek jumpsuits. They also asked them not to walk down the rows of hen cages because doing so would agitate the animals.

Wadsworth said farm employees are trained to walk the rows without bothering the hens, wear Wegmans-issued uniforms and leave their shoes at the farm each night, Wadsworth said.

He first led the group to the manure pit, a basement-like room below the cage floor in Laying House One. Eight piles of manure, each about two feet high, stretched the entire 400-foot length of the shed, and clucking sounds drifted down from above. Fans provided ventilation, and the room smelled no worse yesterday than a recently manured field.

Employees clean out manure pits every three months, and they last cleaned the pit in House One a month and half ago, Wadsworth said.

Upstairs were 80,000 White Leghorn hens, living in eight rows of “battery cages” piled four-high. Conveyor belts that sound like chalk squeaking on a blackboard carried away their eggs.
One farm employee in each laying house spends about 21/2 hours twice a day walking the rows and looking for hens caught in the cages or hens that have gotten loose, Wadsworth said.

No stuck hens were visible yesterday in the cages visible from the ends of the rows, but some hens were missing feathers as the activists had claimed.

Wadsworth said the cages keep hens safe from predators and disease, but some animal-rights activists consider them cruel and have campaigned against them.

Each hen gets 75 square inches of space, Wadsworth said. Hens too sick to lay eggs are euthanized, and all hens are sold after 75 weeks and turned into food.

Wadsworth said 95 percent of egg farms operate the way the Wolcott facility does.

Nearby Laying House Four is newer and houses 100,000 hens. The air there smelled fresher and felt cooler, and a much-quieter conveyor belt carried away the manure. All of the farm’s hen houses will eventually use such technology, eliminating manure pits altogether, Wadsworth said.
None of the hens visible from the ends of the rows in House Four appeared to be missing feathers.

Laying House 14 stands near the farm’s new northern fence and what used to be a wooded area along Red Creek Road. Employees took out the trees after the activists got in.
Wadsworth isn’t surprised that they came to his farm.

And he said he understands how someone unfamiliar with the business might get the idea that the chickens weren’t being treated well — especially if they came in at night when the lights are out, as the activists did.

“I thought inevitably we would be dealing with the animal rights issue,” he said. “Surrounding states are having issues like this.”

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture audits the farm every year, he said, and it got a perfect score last year.

Yesterday was a typical day at the farm, Colleluori said, noting Wegmans’ officials didn’t plan the tour until yesterday morning.

“The people here did not have any warning short of this morning,” she said.

• • •

jmiller@fltimes.com

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