This week, the BDN reported that the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has cleared the out-of-state egg producer, Hillandale Farms, of charges of animal cruelty in one of its Maine facilities in Turner. Last May, undercover video was released of the facility, and the video showed chickens living in deplorable conditions.
According to the BDN article, the Maine Animal Welfare Program inspected the facility and found no proof of the conditions presented in the video last May.
As a chicken farmer and someone who cares about the welfare of animals and the quality of the food we eat, I have some serious concerns about the department’s inspection and report.
- First, in the article, we learn that the inspection involved a “very small portion of cages.” Aside from the fact that chickens should NOT be in cages, why were such a small portion of cages inspected? I’m left with questions about how much of the facility was inspected and how thorough the inspection was.
- Second, I do not see that the video was addressed at all. Assuming the chickens in the video we saw in May were not actors, and I think that’s a safe assumption, we saw some sick, dying, and miserable chickens. I want that video addressed. Common sense tells me to question the length of time between the release of the video and the inspection that came some months later.
- Finally, I’m concerned about Governor LePage’s threat this week to remove whistleblower protections. If you’re not alarmed by this, you should be. If people don’t have the right and the opportunity to sound alarms when they think something is wrong, what will become of us? Since public tours are not allowed at factory farms, how are we supposed to know what really goes on there?
Upon reading the summary of the report and LePage’s comments I realize that, really, there is only one way we can help fight for the rights of these beautiful, intelligent animals. Chickens serve humans well, and we domesticated them because they establish their own order and can generally get along well in large numbers. But we’re abusing them and abusing their abilities to survive in difficult conditions.
Whether or not you’re still upset about the video or accept the report from the state that all is well at the Turner facility, I argue that there’s something we all need to do for the bigger picture. We need to become aware of how our purchasing power may be the only way to change the lives of animals.
Here in Maine, chances are you know someone who has backyard chickens or even a chicken farm. Even in the winter, as egg productions are lower for most chickens, many local farmers still have eggs available for sale. If you don’t know anyone who sells eggs from their farm and need to buy eggs at the grocery store, be aware of the labels.
Pasture-raised eggs are going to cost more, but, if you can afford it, it will make a difference. If you can’t find pasture raised, free range is better than cage free, and cage free doesn’t mean much at all.
This helpful article from NPR breaks down the labels you will find on egg cartons and will give you more honest information about what those labels mean.
Chickens are sweet and funny and ornery. They will tell you stories about things. They like each other. They don’t like each other. Some of them are best friends. We have a Rhode Island Red rooster and a rare hen who are inseparable. If they get separated on one side of a fence when the hen jumps over, the Rooster, Runkle, cries until the hen, Poe, comes back to him. She will stay by him until he feels better, and I’ve seen her worry about him before, too.
But let’s say you don’t care about Poe and Runkle and don’t think the quality of a chicken life is a big deal in the grand scheme of things. After all, we have some serious issues affecting lots of people right now.
Then, I ask you to consider this: the nutrition in factory-farmed eggs is, according to many experts, seriously compromised, and eggs from happy chickens are the ones that have the good nutrition we’re after. The low quality of food and the stress that factory-farmed chickens endure is so severe that it has a biological impact on the nutritional value of the egg. This piece summarizes a study that shows some of the nutritional differences. While some would disagree with this evidence, I’ve read nutritionists argue against the nutritional value of factory-farmed eggs to the extent that they would say not to bother even eating them. I’m no nutritionist, but there’s some compelling evidence on this issue.
If you don’t feel comfortable with the results from the state’s inspection or are just concerned about the welfare of chickens in general, one thing you can do is vote with your wallet. Buy eggs from your friends or a local farmer if you can. Chances are they will allow you to “tour the facilities” any time you want.