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March 01, 2010

Toxic Neighbor: Families Suffer Near Egg Factory Farm

California voters approved Proposition 2 in November 2008, phasing out the use of small cages for laying hens, breeding sows, and veal calves. And while that measure does not take effect until 2015—in order to allow producers to transition to more humane production systems—The HSUS is still closely monitoring the behavior of factory farms that violate environmental laws. In the run-up to the vote on Prop 2, we were particularly appalled by the harm caused to the community by an egg factory farm in the state’s Central Valley. The complete disregard for the rights of the neighboring property owners struck us as dishonorable and harmful—putting the lie to the argument that these factory farms are a valuable component of California or its agricultural community. Here is a report on our work from Jennifer Fearing, our California senior state director.


Larry Yepez, neighbor to the egg factory farm in Lathrop, Calif., has endured rank smells and fly problems
Drummond Buckley
Larry Yepez, neighbor to the egg factory farm,
has endured rank smells and fly problems.

I sat with rapt attention as 79-year-old widow Lita Galicinao told me stories about how her beloved husband liberated her hometown in the Philippines during the war, and then brought her (his “GI Bride” she said several times while blushing) to America to fulfill their dreams of owning some land where they could farm. Back in the early 1950s, they pooled their money with several other families to buy 72 acres of residential and agricultural land in Lathrop, Calif. not far from Interstate 5, and set to the task of starting a new life and raising their families in true village style.

Along with Lita, I sat that day with Larry, Lynda, and Wayne Yepez. Lynda’s mother raised her and her siblings in this tiny community and then Larry moved in and their son Wayne was born. While Larry, who earned a Purple Heart for his bravery as a Vietnam soldier, was often away from home fighting fires in Yosemite, Lassen and other national parks, Lynda and he struggled to understand the cause of young Wayne’s near-constant battle with respiratory ailments.

Stepping out onto Lita’s porch, you’re immediately overwhelmed by what’s likely causing Wayne’s health problems and what has undermined the efforts of this group of neighbors to live comfortably on this land.

Aerial view of massive egg factory farm in Lathrop, California
Google Maps
An aerial view of the Lathrop, Calif. facility.

Not far from their homes sits a massive cesspool of manure and urine—about 13 acres in size—produced by the nearly 700,000 hens who are trapped in an egg factory farm that sits only feet from the end of their road. Small children were trying to play outdoors just a stone’s throw from the noxious swamp. The air quality was putrid. I didn’t want to spend another minute there; it’s hard to fathom spending one’s entire life there.

That seemed to be a feeling shared by a reporter with the Associated Press, who joined us to meet the neighbors that day. He’d taken an interest in these neighbors’ plight, The HSUS’s lawsuit on their behalf, and recent violations issued to this producer by the local Air Pollution Control District. Add it all up, and you have what strongly appears to be a callous disregard for animals, people, land, soil, air and the law. Jason Dearen’s wire story and the accompanying photos document it well. Ironically, the day before this story ran, the judge presiding in this case sanctioned the defendant for spoiling evidence by dredging out manure sludge from the massive cesspool with an enormous backhoe shortly after learning that The HSUS planned to measure the air pollution at the facility.

I’m deeply proud of the work that my colleagues in the Animal Protection Litigation section are doing to represent the interests of these neighbors, which align so clearly with improving the welfare of animals on these factory farms. The root cause of both the neighbors’ and the hens’ suffering is the cramming of as many birds as possible into the smallest amount of space. I hope justice is realized for all the victims in the end.

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