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November 18, 2010

Animal Abuse and Food Safety Threats Uncovered at Publix Egg Supplier

The Humane Society of the United States’ latest undercover exposé of the battery cage egg industry—released just two weeks after yet another egg recall—has exposed rampant abuse and food safety problems at an egg company supplying Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix. The factory farm is owned by Cal-Maine Foods—which is the nation’s top egg producer and which was implicated in the latest egg recall.

A full report on the investigation can be found here.

“This investigation documented birds forced to live in cages with the rotting corpses of their cage mates, birds trapped in cage wires, unable to reach food and water, injuries and other cruel conditions that jeopardize animal welfare and food safety,” stated Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. “Based on these findings and the inherent cruelty of confining birds so tightly they can’t even extend their wings, we hope Publix will establish a policy to only sell cage-free eggs.”

Publix operates more than 1000 stores in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama and has annual sales of more than $24 billion. Publix stores sell eggs from Cal-Maine Foods.

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:

  • Countless dead birds in cages with live birds. Some birds were dead for so long that their corpses were mummified and appeared to have been rotting at least for weeks on end. As the video shows, eggs even roll by the head of a dead bird on a conveyor belt.
  • 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.

Broadcast quality b-roll of the investigation is available for media download at humanesociety.org/news/multimedia/. Still photos are available by request.

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 H-E-B 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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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the Web at humanesociety.org.

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