04/16/2012 11:39 am ET Updated Jun 16, 2012

Kreider Battery-Cage Egg Investigation Highlights Need for Federal Bill

Last week, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times broke news of The Humane Society of the United States' latest undercover investigation focused on industrial agriculture -- a large-scale, battery cage facility for hens in Manheim, Pa., that produces 1.6 million eggs a day. Kristof's piece is online, and if you like, you may add comments to the robust discussion now occurring on the paper's website.

The investigation focused on an egg-producing operation run by Kreider Farms (watch the video). Our undercover investigator worked at Kreider's nine-barn facility for six weeks and documented appalling and extreme overcrowding of hens, dead birds in cages and barn floors covered with flies. Rodents occasionally ran up and down the automated feed belts, and the ammonia smell overpowered workers because of the enormous volume of waste produced by birds in unacceptably high densities. While our investigator was there, government inspectors tested and found three barns positive for salmonella, which can be deadly to consumers. (In 2010, a salmonella outbreak at an Iowa farm resulted in the largest recall of eggs in American history -- 500 million of them.)

Kreider Farms is not a member of the United Egg Producers, the national trade association of the egg industry and it does not observe UEP's voluntary standards on space allotments for birds. Our investigator found that hens were crammed into small, dirty cages and had only 54 to 58 square inches per bird, even in the newly constructed facilities on site. One hen-house held 430,000 birds, roughly the human population of Atlanta, yet the physical footprint of that single barn was about the size of a football field. Birds were in cages stacked six high, and there was a cat-walk between levels one and two. There were nine barns at the facility housing a total of two million hens, and there were typically just eight workers on duty from the early morning to 4 p.m. Kreider has other farms in Pennsylvania with an additional five million birds.

Kreider Farms has not been a supporter of H.R. 3798, the landmark legislative agreement between HSUS and the UEP and introduced by Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), Sam Farr (D-Calif.), and Jeff Denham (R-Calif.). UEP leaders have recognized the need for change, and that the space allotments at 67 square inches are not adequate in the long-term for the birds. That's why they are supporting this legislation to require all egg producers using battery cages to replace them and to get on a track to double the space allotments over time for the birds. H.R. 3798 would also limit ammonia levels, ban starvation-based molting and institute a labeling program for consumers, so they'd know what kinds of housing systems hens live in to produce eggs.

There's no better example of why this legislation is needed than the Kreider situation. Here's a company that is cutting corners at every turn -- on space, cleanliness, air quality. The company won't even comply with the very modest, and inadequate, standards of the UEP.

"The police would stop wayward boys who were torturing a stray dog, so should we allow industrialists to abuse millions of hens?" writes Kristof. "Shouldn't we agree on minimum standards?"

Please contact your federal lawmakers today and urge them to support H.R. 3798. The Senate companion to H.R. 3798 will be introduced in the coming weeks. You can reach any lawmakers in Congress by calling the switchboard at 202-224-3121.

Originally posted on Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.