January 30, 2005
I was asked by the organization Mercy for Animals to review video footage of an Ohio Fresh Eggs facility located in Croton, Ohio. This particular facility supposedly meets the United Egg Producers' "Animal Care Certified" guidelines. Based upon the video footage, I believe the phrase "Animal Care Certified" to be completely misleading for potential consumers for reasons which I will further explain.
I, Robert Teti, DVM, received my Bachelor's degree in biology from Ursinus College, & my doctorate in veterinary medicine from Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine. I am currently the medicine director of a small animal hospital in Elkton, MD as well as the executive director for an animal sanctuary & youth-assistance facility in Avondale, PA.
Chickens, like many bird species, are extremely social animals, and have a highly developed social system. When allowed to engage in their normal behaviors, chickens will spend significant time on the preening of their feathers for their overall well-being. They may do this by engaging in "dust-baths" in order to condition their plumage. Chickens also spend a great deal of time scratching and pecking at the earth in an attempt to forage for and apprehend food items. Their sensitive beaks are used as instruments to assist in the retrieval of information about their environment. Also, unlike humans and other mammals, chickens spend almost all of their time on their feet, either walking or perching. It is important for them to have a variety of substrate stimuli to strengthen and exercise the muscles in their feet and legs. Therefore, the type of substrate the chickens spend a majority of their time on is critical, especially if they are to remain in good health.
The hens that were depicted in the Croton egg facility did not appear to be well cared for; nor did it appear that their needs were given much consideration. In lieu of a flock situation, the hens appeared to be living in extremely close quarters, often 5 to 6 hens in a single caged unit. The adverse effect that such living conditions can have on these individual birds was well evidenced throughout the video. The normal, healthy plumage of a hen was not observed. In fact, the birds exhibited several areas of missing feathers on their bodies. This is undoubtedly due to the unnatural stressed conditions that these birds endured resulting in their psychological distress. Being denied the ability to perform normal and necessary activities, such as dust-bathing and preening of feathers also causes significant distress in these animals. The hens appeared to have been missing significant portions of their beaks. As previously mentioned, beaks are extremely important as information-gathering tools for the birds and their environment, as well as being important in carrying out normal functions, such as preening.
The caged hens appeared to be living on a completely wire floor. This type of substrate does nothing to promote the health of the birds. In fact, it denies them of the ability to perform normal earth scratching activities as well as weakening their leg muscles. Conditions such as "bumblefoot" or ulcerative pododermatitis have been linked with improper cage flooring, like the wire bottoms seen in the video. The only substrate that offered the hens a change from their wire bottoms was when the hens were able to perch on the deceased and decaying corpses of their cage-mates. These conditions, again, lead to a life full of stress for these birds, in turn weakening their immune system and increasing their susceptibility to disease.
Medical issues seemed prevalent throughout the video. They included, but were not limited to: purulent ocular discharge, raised reddened masses in close proximity to the eye, ulcerated masses of the integument, swollen & crusted eyes, erythemic & bruised featherless areas, protruding purplish tissue from the cloaca, & softball sized masses protruding from the cloaca. These disease processes may be caused by infectious etiologies, both viral and/or bacterial, and are exacerbated by the poor quality of the living conditions of these "animal care certified" birds.
As if the aforementioned deficiencies were not offensive, there were several dead hens that were depicted with their heads trapped under the feeding troughs. These animals may have died due to secondary starvation or dehydration because they were trapped. There was also footage of a hen trapped by her wings between the cage bars. If not remedied, that hen could potentially die from starvation or dehydration. In addition, a live chicken was depicted with a strand of cage wire piercing the skin behind her head, leaving her unable to move without tearing away at her integument. Had this hen not been physically removed by the investigator, she could have met with death, as did the other hens who were physically trapped, either under feeding troughs or in the bars of the cages. Left untreated, the exposed and injured skin could have become infected, also leading to further suffering and death for this hen. Finally, the ultimate insult came with the discovery of a live hen in a tub of deceased hens. Surely this hen could not have escaped from her cage unit on her own; her placement in the dead pile must have been intentional, or perhaps, an oversight. Whatever the reason for her being in the dead pile, her outcome most certainly would not have been a good one, and did nothing to alleviate the level of stress she was already enduring.
With all of the abuses exposed and witnessed by this videotape, it is difficult to believe that such a facility could even be classified as an "animal care certified" facility. Consumers want to believe that when they are consuming animal products, the animals were treated as humanely as possible. In an environment that denies chickens the ability to carry out normal behaviors, that promotes and propagates diseases, and that so blatantly ignores the welfare of the individual hens, the term "animal care certified" is a misleading hoax.
Robert Teti, DVM