Newly-released undercover footage shows inhumane treatment of animals and food safety concerns at a facility supplying eggs to Costco, the nation’s second-largest grocery retailer. The Humane Society of the United States shot the video during an undercover exposé.

The investigation was conducted recently at Hillandale Farms in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It uncovered:

  • Birds forced to share their cages with dead, decaying and even mummified corpses—living 24 hours a day, eating and laying eggs for human consumption on top of their dead cage-mates.
  • Hens languishing in cages, packed so tightly they can’t even fully extend their wings, some with their legs stuck in the cage wire. Each hen is given only about 67 square inches of space—less space than an iPad—on which to spend her entire life.
  • Piles of broken, rotting, fly-covered eggs, along with dead birds, on the facility’s floors.

The eggs are sold at some Costco stores under the brand name “Nearby Eggs” in packages depicting an image of hens roaming free in a pasture outside a picturesque red barn with the claim “Farm Fresh” emblazoned on the carton.

The extreme cage confinement documented at this facility comes in stark contrast to Costco’s statements made eight years ago indicating the company’s goal to eliminate cages from its egg supply. In 2007, the company indicated a goal of switching to cage-free eggs, saying, “The next issue is time, and we don’t know what the time frame [for eliminating cages] is yet.”

“We’re disappointed that Costco still allows its egg suppliers to keep birds in filthy, cramped cages for their whole lives,” said HSUS vice president of farm animal protection Paul Shapiro. “Nearly a decade has passed since Costco indicated it wanted to end such abuse in its supply chain, and these birds continue languishing, every minute of every day, in conditions so filthy it would make most people’s stomachs churn.”

Other food companies—including Burger King, Starbucks, Unilever, Nestle, Sodexo and Kellogg—are actively converting to 100 percent cage-free eggs. And Whole Foods grocery chain hasn’t sold eggs from caged hens in more than ten years. Many egg producers are also moving away from conventional battery cages to meet the increasing demand for cage-free.

In Iowa, Hillandale’s operations were responsible for the largest egg recall in U.S. history in 2010 after a devastating Salmonella outbreak. The new investigation comes at a time when three states have declared emergencies due to bird flu, which is exacerbated by unsanitary, overcrowded conditions on poultry operations (PDF).

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