The rotten truth about Egg McMuffins

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Shocking images have simultaneously emerged of animal cruelty in the US at a McDonald’s egg supplier, as well as maggots and cockroaches inside chickens at one of Australia's biggest chicken producers and a major supplier to Coles in Victoria. Reporting by David Donovan and Tess Lawrence.

Mercy for McChickens

A Mercy For Animals undercover investigation into a US McDonald's egg supplier, Sparboe Egg Farms, has revealed disgusting acts of animal cruelty.

The release of secretly filmed video footage yesterday has already made an impact, with McDonald's confirming today it had directed its supplier, Cargill, to stop sourcing eggs from Sparboe Farms, the company at the centre of the video.

Sparboe Farms, however, denied that it's facilities were guilty of systematic abuses, claiming the acts filmed were isolated examples done by rogue workers.

The hidden-camera footage taken at Sparboe facilities in Iowa, Minnesota and Colorado revealed:

  • Hens crammed into filthy wire cages with less space for each bird than a standard-sized sheet of paper to live her entire miserable life, unable to fully stretch her wings or engage in most other natural behaviors

  • Workers burning off the beaks of young chicks without any painkillers and callously throwing them into cages, some missing the cage doors and hitting the floor

  • Workers grabbing hens by their throats and ramming them into battery cages

  • Rotted hens, decomposed beyond recognition as birds, left in cages with hens still laying eggs for human consumption

  • A worker tormenting a bird by swinging her around in the air while her legs were caught in a grabbing device - violence described as "torture" by another worker

  • A worker shoving a bird into the pocket of another employee without any regard for the animal's fear and suffering

  • Chicks trapped and mangled in cage wire - others suffering from open wounds and torn beaks

  • Live chicks thrown into plastic bags to be suffocated

  • The US has no federal laws governing how poultry may be treated on US farms and most states provide major exemptions for farmed animals, opening the possibility for widespread abuses without the risk of prosecution.

    ''Unfortunately, much of the abuse we documented is not only standard, it's legal,'' Nathan Runkle, the executive director of Mercy for Animals, was reported today in the Fairfax Press.

    McDonald's confirmed it had directed its supplier, Cargill, to stop sourcing eggs from Sparboe Farms, the company at the centre of the video.

    ''The behaviour on tape is disturbing and completely unacceptable,'' McDonald's said in a statement.

    ''McDonald's wants to assure our customers that we demand humane treatment of animals by our suppliers. We take this responsibility, along with our customers' trust, very seriously.''

    Sparboe, a family-run company, said it had launched a probe after learning of the video and had fired four workers who engaged in mistreatment of chickens.

    In a statement posted on the company’s website, Sparboe owner Beth Sparboe Schnell, denied that the company systematically engaged in or assisted in acts of animal cruelty.

    Ms Schnell said:

    “I was deeply saddened to see the video because this isn’t who Sparboe Farms is. Acts depicted in the footage are totally unacceptable and completely at odds with our values as egg farmers. In fact, they are in direct violation of our animal care code of conduct, which all of our employees read, sign and follow each day.”

    She defended the company’s welfare policies, saying an independent auditor from Iowa State University confirmed the company’s ''full compliance with our animal welfare policies''.

    Ms Parboe added that Sparboe Farms was the first American egg producer to have its ''science-based animal care production guideline'' certified by the US Department of Agriculture.

    After viewing the undercover footage, Dr Sara Shields, a research scientist, poultry specialist and consultant in animal welfare, condemned battery-cage egg production:

    “Battery cage operations are inherently cruel. The barren, restrictive environment offers no hope for an acceptable quality of life, and such severely overcrowded confinement would be unthinkable for any other farmed species. World-wide, there is increasing recognition that battery cages are simply not appropriate housing.

    "In fact, barren battery cages are so cruel that the entire European Union and the states of California and Michigan have banned their use. Additionally, leading food retailers, such as Whole Foods, Hellmann's, Wolfgang Puck and Subway, and hundreds of colleges and universities refuse to use or sell eggs from hens subjected to the inherent abuses of battery cages.”

    She added:

    "Animals are designed to move, are biologically prepared for regular movement, and will suffer physical consequences if they are not given the freedom to exercise."

    MFA further called on McDonald's to end its use of eggs from hens confined in battery cages in the United States, as it has already done in the European Union.

    As the largest egg purchaser in the United States, MFA said McDonald's had enormous power in effecting improved standards of care for egg-laying hens and called on them to

    “…actively support a recent agreement between the United Egg Producers and The Humane Society of the United States that seeks to establish federal regulations that would provide hens enough space to turn around, as well as environmental enrichments, such as perches and nesting boxes.”

    Baiada for your health

    Today, The Age newspaper has shown that mistreatment of poultry is not just a foreign problem, with graphic vision emerging of serious health and safety issues inside a large Victorian processing plant.

    More than 200 images and videos provided to The Age clips taken from inside the Baiada Poultry plant in Laverton North show cockroaches, maggots and uncovered raw chickens sitting atop plastic bags full of chickens as well as cockroaches inside empty storage containers.

    The Age reported that:

    "Baiada is one of Australia's biggest chicken producers and a major supplier to Coles in Victoria. It owns brands Steggles and Lilydale and also supplies KFC, Aldi and Woolworths. The images at Baiada were taken by workers this year, well before the start of the current indefinite strike.

    "A worker, Sarel Singh, was decapitated at the Laverton North plant in 2010."

    Read the full story and see the disturbing images on The Age website at  
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