Indiana Prairie Farmer, IN
On Wednesday April 7, Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, held a news conference in Des Moines to make accusations against Iowa egg producers. The HSUS showed an undercover video shot at several Iowa egg-laying operations that depicts what Pacelle calls "appalling" treatment of hens.
Representatives of Iowa State University, the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture's office, the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Poultry Association were among those not allowed in the news conference. They, along with members of the farm media, had to wait out in the hallway of the downtown Marriot, where the press conference took place.
Pacelle says his group is against the caging of laying hens. The video shows chickens with infections and confined in "battery cages" in spaces no larger than an 8-by-11-inch piece of paper, as he describes it. The video also alleges rough handling of the birds by workers at the facilities and cites maintenance problems.
In addition to the video, HSUS released a report detailing what Pacelle calls "the problems inherent in cage confinement of laying hens and the importance of the national movement toward cage-free production systems."
Kevin Vinchattle, CEO of the Iowa Poultry Association, says the alleged conditions "reflect an aberration and not standard practice. There is no way Iowa could produce 15 billion eggs this year if our food-producing animals were not treated well. Egg farmers do believe they have an ethical obligation to provide proper care for their hens."
One of the things Pacelle is advocating is a total cage-free production process in Iowa. "However, Iowa's egg farmers have generations of experience in producing eggs," says Vinchattle. "They know cage systems offer some big advantages in caring for the birds."
The Iowa Poultry Association supports a consumer's right to choose the food they feed their families, says Vinchattle. "We don't believe people should have their choices of healthy food removed from their table. Forcing Iowa egg farmers to adopt a specific production method would remove a consumer's freedom of choice."
Spokesmen for the egg-producing companies where the video was shot say they are investigating the situation at their facilities. The video Pacelle displayed was shot at Iowa egg-laying operations at Winterset, Stuart, Guthrie Center and Thompson.
In recent years, Pacelle has turned the HSUS from its long-time role as protector of household pets into a crusader against what he says is inhumane treatment of farm livestock and poultry. "The problem is that there are no laws or government regulations governing the confinements," says Pacelle. "All the laws regulate the slaughter of animals, not the production."
Animal rights groups have shot at least two underground videos in the last year at Iowa poultry and hog operations. One operation featured in the recent video released by HSUS is Rembrandt Enterprises in Thompson. Chief operating officer Don Kellen says his company has initiated an investigation of the situation, "although it would have been beneficial had the Humane Society come directly to us right after the alleged violations occurred."
Victor Rigterink, executive vice president of Rose Acre Farms, headquartered in Indiana and which owns the Iowa facilities at Winterset, Stuart and Guthrie Center where some of the video was shot, says his company "in no way condones inhumane treatment."
Pacelle and HSUS scored a major victory in 2008 when California voters approved an amendment requiring larger cages by 2014. HSUS is now targeting other states to try to get them to pass legislation requiring larger cages or perhaps non-caged facilities for hens. Iowa is the nation's largest egg producer, with more than 50 million laying hens that produce up to 1.25 billion eggs per month, more than twice what the number 2 state of Ohio produces.