New Jersey

Advocacy Group Hopes Video Helps Cage-Free Egg Push

An animal welfare group said it hopes undercover video filmed inside a farm showing how poorly hens are treated will get more U.S. food sellers behind cage-free eggs.

Mercy for Animals said Wednesday it was releasing video clips recorded by an investigator who posed as a farm employee. It said it was calling on the country's largest cooperative of egg manufacturers to abandon the use of wire crates and for one of the region's largest grocery chains to stop selling eggs from hens confined in them.

"Cramming animals in cages so small they can't even spread their wings or walk without climbing over each other is cruel and has no place in a civilized society," said Matt Rice, Mercy for Animals' director of investigations.

Companies including Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Oak Brook, Illinois-based McDonald's Corp. have pledged to use only cage-free eggs.

The United Egg Producers group, which represents egg farmers across the United States, and Wakefern Food Corp., which operates ShopRite, Price Rite and The Fresh Grocer, say the industry is heading toward cage-free eggs even though research has shown cage-free doesn't always mean problem-free living for chickens. Researchers report higher mortality rates and significantly higher production costs in cage-free operations.

The video, which Mercy for Animals says was recorded at the Shady Brae Farm in Marietta, 90 miles west of Philadelphia, shows chickens trampling on each other, dead hens being pulled from cages and carcasses littering the floor of a room.

Officials from the farm didn't respond to phone messages seeking comment. Mercy for Animals provided documentation including a pay stub as proof the video was shot at Shady Brae Farm, but the content of the video couldn't be independently verified.

A poultry farming expert, Gregory Martin, from the Penn State Extension, said he didn't see anything alarming when he inspected the farm at the request of its owner this week in response to the video. He said the hens were well taken care of and were producing eggs at an appropriate rate.

A spokeswoman for Wakefern, which is based in Keasby, New Jersey, said less than 1 percent of its eggs come from the farm and it has suspended those shipments until an independent review is completed. The company still gets eggs from other facilities that use cages.

Mercy for Animals wants the United Egg Producers, which is based in Alpharetta, Georgia, to require its thousands of egg farmers to stop using wire cages, called battery cages, and for ShopRite to join with most other large grocery chains to stop using eggs that aren't from cage-free hens. It also is asking voters in Massachusetts to support a ban on the crates being debated there. Five states plus the European Union ban or restrict the use of battery cages.

United Egg Producers President Chad Gregory said a lot of the group's members believe cage-free is the future. He said about half the industry will have to switch if the companies stand by their commitments.

Wakefern has pledged to use cage-free eggs for its private label brand by 2025. It hasn't committed to going completely cage-free, but its vice president for consumer and corporate communications, Karen Meleta, said it looks like "that's the way the industry is going."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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