Appalling Animal Abuse and Food Safety Threats at Top Egg Producer

The Humane Society of the United States’ latest investigation into industrial agribusiness exposes rampant abuse and food safety problems at a factory farm owned by Cal-Maine, the nation’s top egg producer, and subject of an egg recall earlier this month. Cal-Maine has approximately $1 billion in annual sales and has nearly 30 million laying hens, most of whom are confined in cruel and inhumane cages across the country.

“Our latest farm animal investigation documents inhumane treatment of laying hens and conditions that threaten food safety,” stated Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. “Time and again, we’ve found that these massive facilities caging hundreds of thousands of animals do not properly care for the birds or safeguard our food supply. It’s time for the egg industry to embrace cage-free housing systems and move away from battery cage confinement methods.”

For 28 days concluding in November 2010, an HSUS investigator worked inside a Cal-Maine factory egg farm in Waelder, Texas, and documented multiple abuses and food safety threats, including:

  • Birds trapped in cage wires, unable to reach food or water. Cage wires can trap hens’ wings, necks, legs and feet, causing other birds to trample the weakened animals, usually resulting in a slow, painful death.
  • Abandoned hens. Live birds were roaming outside their cages, some falling into manure pits.
  • Injuries. Birds had bloody feet and broken legs from cage wires.
  • Overcrowding injuries. Cal-Maine crams multiple birds into one cage, giving each hen only 67 square inches of cage space—less than a sheet of paper on which to live for more than a year.
  • Eggs covered in blood and feces.

Facts:

  • Cal-Maine recalled a quarter million eggs for Salmonella concerns earlier this month.
  • Cal-Maine’s 2010 Annual Report to shareholders says that the company’s shell eggs are sold to “a majority of the largest food retailers in the U.S.” Among its customers are retailers such as HEB and Publix.
  • Cal-Maine donated approximately a half million dollars to oppose California’s Proposition 2 in 2008, which phases out the use of cages to confine laying hens.
  • Every one of the last ten published studies comparing cage to cage-free systems found higher Salmonella rates in cage systems, including a 2010 study that found 20 times greater odds of Salmonella infection in caged flocks.
  • Major food retailers and manufacturers are moving away from cage eggs. For example, Hellmann’s is converting to 100 percent cage-free eggs in its mayonnaise.
  • Michigan and California have passed laws to outlaw and phase out cages for laying hens.
  • U.S. factory farms confine about 280 million hens in barren battery cages so small, they can’t spread their wings. Extensive scientific research confirms this causes suffering.
  • Cage-free hens generally have two to three times more space per bird than caged hens. Cage-free hens may not be able to go outside and, like caged hens, may have parts of their beaks cut off, but they can walk, spread their wings and lay their eggs in nests—all behaviors permanently denied to hens crammed into battery cages.

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