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April 08, 2010

How the Egg Industry Should Respond to Our Investigation

We don’t expect the subjects of any HSUS investigation, or the industry as a whole, to welcome or like our scrutiny, and that includes the investigation we announced yesterday in Iowa into two of the three largest egg-producing companies in the nation. It’s the human instinct to be defensive, and with all of the overheated rhetoric in the animal agribusiness industry about animal welfare advocates, it’s no surprise that we’d see defensiveness and even denial.

281_egg_investigation_videoIn responding to the press inquiries, Rose Acre Farms suggested that the scenes we showed might have been staged or doctored—the scenes of hundreds of thousands of animals overcrowded in battery cages, many languishing after getting a body part caught in the caging, or yanked from one cage and stuffed into another. Or the footage of dead hens, some who been decomposing for weeks—long before our investigator arrived at the facility—being pulled from cages daily. How one undercover employee, with a supervisor on site, could manufacture such an extraordinary level of abuse or inattentiveness is difficult to imagine. To do so would probably have required a movie director with some extraordinary staging experience, perhaps a James Cameron or a Wolfgang Petersen. When Petersen directed the movie "Troy," he probably only had a few thousand actors and extras for the battle scenes. Here, we are talking up to 300,000 birds in each laying hen warehouse. That’s a lot of birds, and you can’t exactly tuck them under your shirt when you go into work.

To its credit, Rembrandt Enterprises issued a more measured statement, saying it would investigate the allegations. Today, I wrote to the leaders of both companies, provided our report, and our footage. It is our hope they treat the matter with the seriousness it deserves. Keep in mind though that the core allegation simply cannot be refuted: the egg industry freely admits it confines millions of birds in cages where each one has less space than a sheet of paper on which to live for up to two years before slaughter. It’s the battery cage systems themselves—with hens being caught in the wire, and dead birds being crammed into cages with live ones—that are the problem.

These companies, and all others in the sector, should do the right thing and shift toward cage-free housing systems. An abundance of science demonstrates that battery cage systems cannot allow for proper animal welfare. These cages are so small that the animals are severely overcrowded and effectively immobilized for their entire lives. But consumers have a big role, too. We vote for or against animal welfare with our food choices in the marketplace, and this latest investigation into the egg industry provides plenty to chew on for people who want to eat with conscience.

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