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WASHINGTON POST EXCLUSIVE

Below is the exact text of the Washington Post exclusive on the ISE investigation. The article is no longer available on the Washington Post website.

Md. Egg Farm Accused of Cruelty
Animal Rights Group Says Photos Show Inhumane Conditions

By LORI MONTGOMERY

June 6, 2001

The pictures show thousands of hens crowded into small cages in a long shed. Many are missing so many feathers they look as if they’ve been plucked. Here and there, a bird stands immobilized, her head or wing caught in the wires. A few appear to have died this way, leaving their cagemates to negotiate a decomposing corpse.

According to a local animal rights group, the photos were taken during four clandestine visits to a Maryland egg farm operated by ISE America, one of the nation’s largest egg producers.

The activists “rescued” eight chickens—pronounced to be in “very poor” health by a Hyattstown veterinarian—and today plan to urge Maryland officials to prosecute ISE America under the state’s newly fortified animal cruelty laws.

State and local officials, however, have shown little interest in pursuing the allegations, the latest in a national crusade to force egg farmers to abandon wire “battery cages” and improve living conditions for the flocks that produce 75 billion eggs each year.

Gregg Clanton, ISE America’s vice president, is not certain the group’s members visited his facility in Cecil County. ISE America owns more than a quarter of the 4.4 million laying hens in Maryland, where eggs are a $48 million a year business and chickens generally are the largest agricultural industry in the state.

Clanton denied that dead hens are left to fester in the cages, saying the company keeps its hens “healthy and alive.”

“We use normal industry practices. Their complaint lies with our industry, not our facility,” he said.

Miyun Park, president of Compassion Over Killing, a Washington-based animal rights organization, agreed with that assessment, calling conditions at the ISE farm “fairly normal.”

“If consumers knew how animals are abused by the egg industry, they would never eat eggs,” Park said.

Park’s group targeted ISE America after Maryland became the 32nd state to elevate cruelty to animals from a misdemeanor to a felony. The new law, signed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), takes effect Oct. 1.

But, like most other states, Maryland has an exemption for “customary and normal … agricultural husbandry practices,” making the prosecution of cruelty to farm animals a rarity.

Farm Sanctuary, a farm animal protection organization, won a conviction last year against an ISE America farm in New Jersey where two live birds had been thrown into a barrel with dead ones. But the misdemeanor conviction and $564 fine were overturned when a judge found insufficient evidence that farm workers had maliciously neglected the birds.

Controversy over conditions for laying hens has raged since at least the 1960s, when a British activist wrote about modern farm practices in a book called “Animal Machines.” Among the book’s targets: battery cages, small enclosures in which hens are housed in such cramped quarters they can neither lie down nor stretch their wings.

Animal welfare activists claim the cages place birds under severe stress. To prevent hens from pecking each other, farmers often trim their beaks with hot knives when they are young, causing chronic pain, said Suzanne Millman, who studies farm animals for the Humane Society of the United States.

Egg farmers say battery cages produce healthier birds and healthier eggs, because the birds are prevented from eating their own feces and protected from germs. Poultry are not covered by federal animal welfare laws, but farmers say economics demand that the hens be treated well.

“If you crowd your chickens too much, they will lay fewer eggs and have higher mortality,” said Don Bell, a poultry specialist at the University of California-Riverside.

Still, facing pressure from animal welfare activists, the European Union ordered its farmers to phase out battery cages by 2012. Last year, McDonald’s announced its restaurants would buy eggs only from farms that give hens 72 square inches of cage space, boosting the industry standard by nearly 50 percent.

Even that is not enough, animal rights activists say. The hens “rescued” from Cecil County didn’t perk up until they had a bath and the run of Park’s Dupont Circle apartment, Park said.

Photos taken by Compassion Over Killing can be seen on the Internet at www.isecruelty.com

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