UPDATE: Pennsylvania Court Finds that Animal Abuse on Egg Factory Farm is Legal
Acquittal in Esbenshade Farms Cruelty Case Further Demonstrates that the Foxes Are Guarding the Factory Farm Henhouse
On June 1, 2007, a Lancaster County judge acquitted Esbenshade egg factory farm owner and manager of animal cruelty charges, essentially re-writing state cruelty law to find that abuse is perfectly legal as long as it is committed against farmed animals.
“This ruling reveals that—under this judge’s opinion—farm animals in Pennsylvania have no legal protection from the horrific conditions that were clearly documented inside this egg factory farm” stated Erica Meier, executive director of Washington, D.C.-based Compassion Over Killing (COK). “This court may have acquitted these two defendants, but the court of public opinion is certainly turning against the egg industry and its cruel practices.”
The verdict was handed down after a trial in which the court was presented with undercover video evidence revealing appalling conditions for hens in the facility. The footage was gathered by a COK investigator who was employed at Esbenshade in late 2005, then presented to Pennsylvania-certified humane officer Johnna Seeton of the Pennsylvania Legislative Animal Network (PLAN) who subsequently filed 70 counts of criminal animal cruelty against the owner and manager of the farm. See Background section below for more detail.
According to COK’s general counsel Cheryl Leahy, “If these animals had been dogs or cats, there’s little doubt this case would have resulted in a conviction. There is a clear double standard here, and that hypocrisy is troubling.”
From November 30 to December 9, 2005, an investigator affiliated with Compassion Over Killing worked undercover at Esbenshade Farms, one of the nation’s top egg producers, located in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania. While there, he documented appalling conditions for hundreds of thousands of hens including: birds overcrowded in wire cages so small, they cannot spread their wings, hens left to suffer from untreated illnesses or injuries,birds with their wings, legs, or feet entangled in the wires of cages, unable to access food or water,injured or dying birds removed from their cages and left in the aisles without access to food or water, birds impaled on the wires of the cages with many found already dead as a result of the painful immobilization, and hens living in cages amongst decomposing bodies of other birds.
Criminal Charges Filed
COK presented the video footage to a Lancaster County humane officer who agreed that the conditions for hens at this factory farm are cruel and inhumane. As a result of the video documentation and other evidence, the owner of Esbenshade Farms and the manager of the facility in Mount Joy were each charged with 35 counts of criminal animal cruelty. Read more about this investigation and the charges filed as reported in a feature article in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The Case Goes to Court
The criminal trial against the owner and manager of Esbenshade Farms started on April 18, 2006, during which the defense’s motion to suppress COK’s video evidence was denied.
The trial continued on August 7, 2006, and resumed again on March 1, 2007.
On March 2, the defense’s motion for acquittal was denied.
Esbenshade and the Egg Industry
Esbenshade Farms does not even participate in the United Egg Producers’ (UEP) voluntary certification program, which sets forth the absolute barest of minimum guidelines for laying hen husbandry. While these guidelines still permit a wide variety of abuses, the fact that Esbenshade Farms will not even agree to follow them says a lot about the company. In fact, more than 80 percent of the egg industry participates in the UEP’s program.
Esbenshade Farms is Pennsylvania’s third-largest egg producer operating three egg factory farms, which house a total of 2.25 million hens in battery cages. At the facility in Mount Joy, the investigator was one of four workers monitoring seven sheds in which an estimated 600,000 battery hens are confined. In other words, each worker is responsible for the care of approximately 150,000 birds each day. To make matters worse, the cages at this facility are so dilapidated that countless birds become injured or imapaled on loose wires, preventing them from accessing food or water. Many die as a result of these debilitating conditions.
Write a Letter: Please urge your legislators to ban the use of barren battery cages. Welfare concerns have already prompted the European Union to phase out the use of conventional battery cages by 2012. The U.S. should do the same. Contact your representatives and let them know that it’s time to ease the suffering of laying hens. Read COK’s report, Animal Suffering in the Egg Industry, to learn more about the inherent cruelties of the battery cage system.