Oral Statement by MFA investigator Nathan Runkle
Presented on Monday, March 3, 2003
at the Mercy For Animals Press Conference
Good Morning and thank you everyone for joining us. My name is Nathan Runkle and I am the director of Mercy For Animals, a not-for-profit Ohio animal advocacy organization.
In December, 2002, Mercy For Animals wrote to Weaver Brothers Egg Farm, the state's fourth largest egg producer, located in Versailles, Ohio. We requested a tour and expressed concern over the facility's treatment of hens. Our request to observe and document the conditions at Weaver Brothers was promptly denied.
As such we were forced to investigate the factory farm on our own. Following stringent bio-security standards taken from the poultry industry's own publications, myself and another MFA investigator, Derek Coons, made two nighttime visits documenting case after case of egregious acts of animal cruelty, neglect, and abuse.
We discovered hens caked in feces packed into crowded, filthy wire cages so small they could not spread a single wing, diseased hens suffering from untreated growths and infections, hens trapped in the wire of their cages without access to food or water, dead bodies left to rot in cages with birds still producing eggs for human consumption, and a live hen thrown away in a trash can filled with rotting corpses.
Like over 95% of the hens raised for egg production in the United States, the hens at Weaver Brothers are confined to "battery cages"-- small wire cages stacked in tiers and lined up in rows in huge warehouses.
With up to 7 hens per cage, each bird is allowed less than half a square foot of space, less than 3/4 the area of a standard 8 1/2" x 11" piece of paper.
Hens confined to battery cages live day in and day out without ever seeing the sun. The ability to walk freely, fully stretch their wings, perch, roost, or dust bathe, become impossible tasks. The battery cage frustrates every natural instinct and reduces these naturally clean animals to living in the excrement of their cage mates.
Due primarily to abrasion against the wire of their cages, and continuously being physically assaulted by the trampling of other hens, many of the birds suffer from severe feather damage including missing wing and tail feathers. The lack of feathers means that the bird's skin is at high risk of injury from pecking and scratching.
Due to the stressful and unsanitary living conditions, sickness and disease are inherent problems in factory farm systems where birds are forced to live in filth and extreme confinement. In an attempt to minimize costs, and maximize profit, even the sickest of hens are denied veterinary care.
Forcing a naturally physical bird to spend her life in a cramped and stationary position causes numerous health problems such as: muscle degeneration, poor blood circulation, osteoporosis, and foot and leg deformities. Numerous other health problems plague hens on factory farms. At Weaver Brothers, investigators documented birds suffering from such untreated illnesses as raging eye and sinus infections, mechanical feather damage, wing hemetones, and foot lesions.
We discovered hens that had become trapped when their bodies or feathers become caught in the wire of the cages. Once trapped, it is nearly impossible for the hens to free themselves. These animals were clearly unable to access food or water, and left for unknown lengths of time, leaving the birds at great risk of dying slowly from starvation or dehydration.
Due to filthy living conditions and a lack of basic care, the egg industry has extremely high mortality rates. According to a report by the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, for every 700,000 hens in a modern egg facility, 1,500 birds die each and every week in their cages. The factory "farmers" disregard the health and welfare of the individual animals, as they consider the number that will die in their profit calculations. Many hens succumb to untreated sickness, disease, or injures. The hens at Weaver Bros. are no exception.
At Weaver Bros. Egg Farm, MFA investigators discovered severely decomposed bodies in cages with live hens. The hens were left to slowly rot on their cage floors. Their cage mates, still producing eggs for human consumption, are forced to live with the stench and flies this environment creates.
MFA also uncovered piles of dead birds in the aisles of the sheds and a shopping cart, trailed with blood, was found containing countless decomposing egg-laying hens. Investigators also documented numerous trash cans filled with dead hens.
Below the cages, the mounds of feces stretched as far as the eye can see. At Weaver Bros., the manure crawls with insects and flies swarm everywhere.
The high emission of ammonia created contributes to the spread of disease and infection for the hens above. This toxic ammonia rises from the decomposing uric acid in the manure pits beneath the cages to produce a painful corneal ulcer condition in the chickens. This is known as "ammonia burn," a condition that often leads to blindness. At Weaver Bros. Egg Farm, hens that had managed to escape their cages would often fall to the manure pits below, where they become trapped. Investigators discovered dead hens in the manure storage areas who had presumably died from dehydration.
The investigation also included the rescue of a live hen discovered thrown away in a trash can, filled with rotting carcasses. At first glace I easily would have mistaken this hen, determined to survive, for a lifeless corpse had she not lifted her tiny head, stared at me with curiosity, and blinked her eyes from atop the pile. Weaver Brothers had thrown her away like nothing more than yesterday's newspaper, a dirty rag, or a piece of garbage. When we found this hen, her comb was pail, her body was becoming increasingly cold, and she had little energy. We knew if she was not quickly rescued she would become yet another casualty of the violent egg industry. As such, I slowly reached my hands into the cold, rusted steel bin and lifted the hen to safety. The hen, now named Hope, was taken to an avian veterinarian where she was diagnosed with pale mucous membranes, a sinus infection, a hard nodule ventral to her left eye, a hemetone on her left wing, bruising on her upper dorsal surface, and abrasions and swelling on her right foot and toe. The veterinarian confirmed that she was emaciated, weak, and suffering from severe muscle trauma. A fecal examination revealed the parasite coccidia. She received fluid injections to help re-hydrate her underweight body and give her much needed strength. For five days she was nurtured in a warm, isolation ward and treated with medication.
Today, Hope lives free on a farmed animal sanctuary in Ohio where she is forever free of the torment of the battery cage. She walks freely, dust bathes, and roosts at night, all behaviors she could not fulfill while confined to her filthy cage at Weaver Brothers Egg Farm.
We will now present a short 7 minute video illustrating the conditions documented during this investigation. I will then be happy to answer any questions that you may have.
(SHOW INVESTIGATION VIDEO)
The cruelty documented at Weaver Brothers is, to the shock of many consumers, standard egg industry practice. In just the past two years, seven investigations at egg farms in Ohio, Maryland, Minnesota, and New Jersey have all uncovered similar abuses.
Hens are sentient individuals - as are we - who feel pain, have desires, and have a right to live free of exploitation.
The European Union has already banned battery cages because of their inherent cruelty, and a recent Zogby poll found that an overwhelming majority of Americans disapprove of standard egg industry practices, including confining birds in battery cages.
We are calling on Americans of conscience to take a stand against blatant animal cruelty by refusing to buy eggs. We are calling on our government to stop ignoring the plight of factory-farmed animals. Banning battery cages in the United States is the first step to eradicating the view of animals as mere commodities, a view that has led to enormous and unconscionable suffering.
Today we are calling on the Darke County prosecutor to file animal cruelty charges against Weaver Brothers. We have provided them with video footage from our investigation as well as statements from avian veterinarians and poultry scientists condemning conditions uncovered at Weaver Brothers Egg Farm.