Animal cruelty case against egg farm settled for $125,000

Posted June 07, 2010, at 12:30 p.m.

TURNER, Maine — Maine’s largest egg farm and prosecutors agreed Monday to settle animal cruelty allegations spurred by an activist group’s undercover video that showed birds living in squalid conditions and being mistreated.

In a settlement approved in Lewiston District Court, Maine Contract Farming admitted that it did not provide adequate shelter and sustenance to 10 hens at its farm in Turner last year. The company will pay $25,000 in penalties and a one-time payment of $100,000 to the Maine Department of Agriculture for monitoring of hens at egg farms across the state.

Civil charges were brought against the company last year after Ohio-based Mercy for Animals released undercover videos taken by one of its investigators.

Since then, the farm has taken corrective action and shown a commitment to ensuring a higher level of care toward its birds, said Don Hoenig, state veterinarian with the Agriculture Department.

“They have made a substantial commitment to increasing their level of management over bird care and bird-health management,” Hoenig said. “They are in compliance with our state’s animal welfare laws and poultry care standards.”

Maine Contract Farming is a contract egg producer for Quality Egg of New England, caring for nearly 5 million birds at its farm in the central Maine town of Turner. The farm produces about 3 million eggs a day.

Last year, Mercy for Animals conducted an undercover investigation and released video footage that showed hens living under cramped conditions in cages and workers grabbing hens by the neck and twirling them around in circles.

Department of Agriculture inspectors then searched the farm for evidence of animal abuse. The final settlement was worked out with the Androscoggin County district attorney’s office.

Maine Contract Farming Operations Manager Jay DeCoster called the mistreatment on the video unacceptable, but said in a statement the company quickly responded to correct the situation.

“Our commitment to the care of our birds has never been a greater priority than it is today, and we are pleased to put this matter behind us so we can focus on the successful operation of our farm,” he said.

Nathan Runkle, executive director of Mercy for Animals, commended Maine officials for holding the egg farm responsible.

“As this case graphically illustrates, the egg industry is incapable of self-regulation and animal abuse runs rampant on caged egg facilities nationwide,” he said in a statement.

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