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Humane Society says Costco egg supplier mistreats hens

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CHICAGO (Reuters) — An undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States found unsanitary and “inhumane” conditions at a Gettysburg, Pa., farm that supplies eggs to retailer Costco Wholesale Corp, the animal welfare group said Tuesday.

Footage collected at a Hillandale Farms facility in April and May by someone “associated with” the Humane Society showed hens laying eggs in cramped cages with deceased birds. Broken eggs and dead chickens were on the floor.

“This is the type of inhumane, unhygienic and unsustainable practice that has no place in Costco’s egg supply chain,” Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection, said during a media conference call.

Hillandale Farms said the employee that gathered the footage was to blame for the lapse in production standards and that he has since been fired. The company said it brought in two independent food safety and veterinary experts to review its operations and concluded that the Humane Society’s findings “reflect an isolated incident.”

Hillandale provides eggs to some Costco stores under the brand name Nearby Eggs. The family-owned farm business is also an Eggland’s Best LLC franchisee.

The Humane Society called on Costco to provide a timeline for its promised transition to cage-free eggs. The group’s leaders were speaking with Costco officials later on Tuesday about its investigation, Shapiro said.

Costco, the third-largest U.S. retailer, did not have an immediate comment. The Humane Society said it was aware the employee was fired, but made no further comment.

Retailers and food makers have come under increased pressure from activists to improve their animal welfare and food production practices, including bigger crates and cages for animals and reducing the use of certain drugs in livestock and poultry production.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the largest U.S. food retailer, said in May that it was telling suppliers not to raise animals in gestation crates and under other conditions considered inhumane. The company also asked suppliers to curb the use of antibiotics in meat, seafood, dairy and egg production.

In March, senior Costco executives told Reuters the company was working toward eliminating the sale of meat from chickens and other animals raised with antibiotics but did not have a target date for reaching that goal.

(Additional reporting by Nathan Layne; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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  • Adrian Rush

    “Hillandale Farms said the employee that gathered the footage was to blame for the lapse in production standards and that he has since been fired.”

    Oh, right. One person caused all of that. And he filmed it for what reason, then? So he could expose his own bad work and get fired? Give me a break. Even if it was the fault of one person, that sure wouldn’t say much about the company’s oversight of its workers, would it?

    The guy obviously got fired in retaliation.

    Costco, please do something to remedy this.

  • Keyser Soze

    I wouldn’t put it pass that worker that they let things get so bad so that they would have a story. Wonder what political action caused this… Makes you think.

  • John

    It’s a barn, not a kitchen. Five hundred thousand chickens laying seven hundred thousand eggs per day will leave a few broken eggs and dead chickens on the floor. Thank you, Costco, for providing me with affordable wholesome eggs.

  • tootietuttle

    i heard they tape the chickens eye’s open and make them watch ellen and rachel maddow…back to back…how cruel is that? There are humans who work and live in similar conditions.