My colleague Paul Shapiro and I just completed a press conference exposing repugnant treatment of hens at a major egg supplier to Costco -- the nation's second-largest grocery retailer. At the factory farm in question -- a notorious egg producer called Hillandale, which was previously implicated in 2010 in the biggest egg recall in American history centered in Iowa -- our investigator found heart-wrenching problems, this time at Hillandale's facilities in Pennsylvania. Our new investigation found:
- Birds confined in cages, packed so tightly they basically lived on top of each other.
- Live birds locked in cages with the mummified corpses of their cage-mates -- eating, sleeping, defecating, and laying eggs on top of dead birds.
- Hens' wings, legs, and necks trapped in the corroded wires of their battery cages -- breaking their limbs or choking them.
- Rotting, broken, fly-covered eggs, along with dead birds, littering the facility's floor.
The eggs from this facility are sold at some Costco stores under the brand name "Nearby Eggs," in packages depicting a cartoon image of hens roaming free in a pasture outside a picturesque red barn -- a visual that couldn't be further removed from reality.
In other words, Costco is providing shelf space to an operation and associated system of egg production that subjects birds to unacceptable living conditions and is also pulling a fast one on its customers.
While many major egg producers are phasing out barren battery cages and moving toward cage-free housing systems to meet consumer demand, Hillandale is an outlier. This egg factory farm operator has even been working over the last two years to open up a conventional battery cage facility in Ohio and subvert an agreement reached between The HSUS and farm groups that forbids that very thing.
Most important to this controversy is that Costco, in 2007, publicly indicated its commitment to a goal of selling cage-free eggs only. We understand that companies need time to make major changes, but it's been nearly a decade and Costco still doesn't even have a timeline for accomplishing that transition. Many other major companies have announced and implemented similar plans. Just last month, Walmart announced its commitment to the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare and I am sure that no reasonable observer would expect that company to wait nearly a decade to act on its statement of principles.
Hens in battery cages live pitiful lives of constant deprivation, packed together so tightly they can barely ever move. They live in the darkness, with no comforts, and all they know is suffering and little else. Costco can do better. It has already set animal welfare baselines for pigs (no gestation crates) and calves (no veal crates), and can and should do the same for laying hens, just as it pledged eight years ago.
Take action now -- call Costco and urge them to stop selling eggs from caged hens. Good intentions matter, but they must be given life, and in this case, stocked on the shelf.
Watch video footage of the investigation.