United Poultry Concerns June 6, 2003

UPC Cited in Cleveland Plain Dealer Mega Egg Farm Series

Associated Press, Casey Laughman, 05/31/03

Columbus- The state's largest egg producer has met the requirements of federal inspectors who said the company needed to change the way it handled and labeled chicken feed and has not been penalized, Buckeye Egg Farm's chief operating officer said yesterday. The megafarm was sent a warning letter by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in March that detailed "significant deviations" from the department's guidelines for feed production. William Leininger, the company's COO, said the company received "merely a warning letter." Leininger said the company has responded to the letter and is now in compliance with the regulations.

Owner Anton Pohlmann is trying to sell the company under threat of being shut down by the state for a history of environmental problems, including swarms of insects, clouds of manure dust and water contamination. The Buckeye Egg operation has about 9.75 million laying hens and facilities in Licking, Hardin and Wyandot counties. The company is the country's fourth-largest egg producer and produced about 2.7 billion eggs last year. Ohio Environmental Council spokeswoman Susan Studer King said the company markets under dozens of brand names and that consumers can't be sure which brands might be from the company. A message was left for the FDA's Cincinnati District Office.

After an inspection of Buckeye Egg's feed mill in Croton, about 23 miles northeast of Columbus, the FDA said the procedures for handling and labeling chicken feed needed to be changed. It said the megafarm was not properly recording the amount of antibiotics it used in its feed and did not properly label feed that could contain cattle parts. Cattle cannot be given feed that contains cattle parts due to the possibility of mad cow disease being transmitted. Leininger said the feed is used solely for chickens, which cannot contract mad cow disease. He said the company did comply with the FDA's requirements and now labels its feed with a warning against giving it to cattle.

The company was also told it was failing to carefully measure and monitor the amount of antibiotics it put in its feed. If the dosage was too high, the risk of egg consumers being exposed to antibiotics unfit for human consumption and of developing medication-resistant strains of salmonella increases, according to environmental, agricultural and food-safety officials. Leininger said the antibiotics warning was due to the way the company measured the amounts it puts in the feed. He said that the department told the company to start recording the actual amount of antibiotics used, instead of the amount the company expected to use. "At no time was the general public ever at risk," Leininger said. That's not good enough, said King. She said the Environmental Council feels the company should be closed down after repeated violations. "They've been given every last chance there is," King said.

The Plain Dealer, Fran Henry, 06/01/03

Old MacDonald had a farm, and on this farm he had some chicks. Two dozen or so, rummaging around the barnyard, pecking for feed Mrs. MacDonald tossed into the barnyard each morning. Then she would collect the eggs from the henhouse and save them for the Saturday market. It was a pleasant life, with a chick here, a chick there, but times changed and so did Old MacDonald. Somewhere around 1980, he decided to specialize in egg production. Out went the pigs, cows, sheep and goats, and in came a few thousand chickens. Now, he couldn't have chickens running around, so he put them in the barn in slope-bottomed cages. That way, their waste dropped to the ground, while the eggs rolled to the collection trough. It was the modern way, and Old MacDonald liked to do things right. The hens could just forget nesting to lay eggs or perching to sleep. Then he bought the neighbor's farm and filled its barns with hens, too - fancy White Leghorns bred to be really good layers. Meanwhile, he doubled up the hens in the cages just to see if they still would lay eggs. When they did, he bought more hens and added another and then another to each cage to see how they fared. He found that crowding birds made economic sense, because birds were cheap and cages were not. When he saw his birds pecking at one another, he started clipping their beaks off. Before he knew it, Old MacDonald owned four barns holding 300,000 hens each, about seven to a cage. He became a survivor in an industry that required farmers to get larger or get out of the business. In 1970, there were about 10,000 small egg farms nationwide. Only 280 remain, mostly big corporations.

Old MacDonald's hens barely could move without climbing over each other, but the farm was efficient and Old MacDonald was happy. And the consumer was happy because eggs were cheap.
But as time passed, Old MacDonald's profits shrank because all of these egg factories were producing more eggs than people would eat. And all sorts of people complained bitterly about egg farms. They're concentration camps, fumed the animal-rights activists. They're smelly factories ruining our country life, his neighbors sneered. They're polluting the water and air, the environmentalists charged. As the activists' voices got louder, many in the industry feared they would hurt egg sales.

Most consumers were oblivious to the problems. They were too busy buying cheap eggs. Then new egg cartons began to show up in the dairy case. Marked "cage free," they were nearly twice the price of regular eggs, but some people bought them anyway. Old MacDonald knew it was only a matter of time until the rest wondered about those new eggs, too. So his problems are multiplying. The state's annual production has fallen by a third in the last five years as Iowa has overtaken Ohio as the nation's largest egg producer. Old MacDonald also finds himself making less than a penny a dozen. Now, the rules are getting tougher.

The industry's principal group, the United Egg Producers, recently issued new animal-welfare standards, which include allotting a few more square inches per bird each year until 2008. So Old MacDonald has a choice: expand his facilities to house his 300,000 birds, or reduce his flock accordingly, about 16 percent. Either way, consumers will have to pay another few cents a dozen.

Meanwhile, government sharpened the tools used to monitor agribusiness. In December, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began to require all farms with 82,000 hens or more to obtain federal permits to operate. Previously, only megafarms with a history of manure spills or those in danger of spills were required to get federal permits. In April 2002, Ohio issued its first-ever rules to govern construction and operation of factory farms of 100,000 hens or more. Ohio also moved megafarm supervision from the state EPA to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, a controversial change.

As much as he's been through already, Old MacDonald has a feeling that his problems are just beginning. In the American livestock industry, "production practices are dictated by economic necessity, not by a desire to treat animals in any particular way," said Brian Roe of the Ohio State University Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Developmental Economics. United Egg Producers is the first organization in the livestock industry to develop animal-welfare standards for its members. Failure to comply only costs egg producers official certification. The new guidelines, being phased in from April 2002 to April 2008, increase each bird's space a few square inches each year. The first increase brought the space from an average of 48 square inches, about the area covered by a half sheet of typing paper, to 56 square inches. The final increase will give the bird 67 square inches, which is approximately the area covered by a Kleenex tissue. While the hens might not notice the subtle change, the extra space per bird has potential to reduce the nation's laying hen population by 16 percent by 2008 - if farmers subtract birds without adding new housing. With fewer hens laying eggs, perhaps production will come in line with demand, and the nation's egg farmers again might be profitable. The new standards also call for improved henhouse air quality, careful beak trimming and handling procedures. Under consideration is a ban on forced molting, which involves starving birds for a week or two when they are about 65 weeks old.

The egg industry hasn't gone nearly far enough to satisfy the activists. "Birds are treated like machines in the U.S.," said Michael Appleby of the Humane Society of the United States. "We have allowed the industries to do that. To some extent, we've required them to do it to supply cheap food. It's obscene how cheap eggs are." A true commitment to animal welfare, Appleby said, would allow more space and give the birds the opportunity to scratch the ground, take dust baths, perch and nest. "Let them be birds," he said. He prefers the direction European egg producers are heading. In 1999, they began phasing in standards that emphasize cage-free farms. European farmers who wish to continue using cages after 2012 will be required to allow 85 square inches of space per bird in "enriched" cages outfitted with perches, nesting boxes and scratching areas. At the very most, said Karen Davis, of United Poultry Concerns Inc., the new rules are "teeny-weeny steps." The new rules don't go far enough to satisfy fast-food giant McDonald's Corp. The company won't buy eggs from producers who give hens less than 72 square inches of cage space each, or use starvation to induce molting.

Listen to the faint scratching sounds. Look how the egg rocks ever so slightly as the small creature within it struggles to break free. Peck-peck-peck. A fragile bit of shell falls, and then another. Peck-peck-peck. Then the baby rests awhile, gathering up the energy to try again, and again. Finally, the pale beak triumphs, and the chick is free. It hops to its feet and begins its instinctive search for food. But a hand swoops down and picks it up, and an employee called a "sexer" makes a decision that scripts the small creature's life. For a male chick, it is a short story. He can't lay eggs, and he can't develop enough meat to be raised profitably for food. So he is dropped in a grinder alive and processed into cattle feed. "They don't know what hits them," said Robert Kreider, vice president of Hy-Line, the nation's leading supplier of chicks. "It's the ugliest side of our business."

A female chick, however, has a busy future. When she is about 10 days old, her beak is trimmed with a heated blade to prepare her for life in a small cage. Without the trim, most farmers say, she will peck at other hens, possibly causing them harm. After about 17 weeks, the bird begins to lay eggs, nearly one a day. She lives in a windowless shed, where light, water, feed, heat and ventilation are computer controlled. On some farms, her manure will be allowed to pile up beneath the bank of cages, causing strong ammonia vapors to fill the barn. When she is about 65 weeks old, she is starved an average of 10 days to induce molting, which means she loses her feathers. The process reinvigorates her, farmers say, allowing the hen to lay eggs another 40 or so weeks. At about age 2, she is so physically depleted that her bones often break when she is removed from her cage for disposal. About 30 percent of hens arrive at the slaughterhouse with freshly broken bones, says a 1999 study for Compassion in World Farming. At the end, she is gassed to death and buried, or slaughtered and processed into food.

Nathan Runkle hates this story so much that he vividly recalls the first time he heard it. He was 11, at the mall with his mother, when he was drawn to an informational booth about factory farming. "I remember reading the literature and feeling sick to my stomach," he said. On the spot, he decided to be a vegetarian and to tell his friends about factory farms. He laughs at his own naivete. "I thought that when most people heard about how animals were treated, they'd stop." At 15, he was moved to action by an incident at his rural Ohio high school. In May 1999, an agriculture teacher, who was also a pig farmer, brought supposedly dead piglets to school for dissection. When one of the animals was found to be alive, the teacher asked a student to kill it in the school parking lot. The student, who also worked on the teacher's farm, held the piglet by its hind legs and struck its head on the pavement. When the piglet still didn't die, another teacher, Molly Fearing, took the animal to a veterinarian to be euthanized and called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. A couple of weeks later, cruelty charges were filed against the teacher. "The charges were dismissed," Runkle said wearily, as though he's told the story a million times. The American Association of Swine Veterinarians lists blunt trauma as an acceptable euthanasia method for piglets up to 3 weeks old. However, the standards call for a "sharp, firm blow [to the head] with a heavy instrument."

After the incident, Runkle and Fearing co-founded Mercy for Animals, an animal-rights group, to campaign against factory farming, the fur trade, abuse of animals in entertainment and animal testing. Now, Runkle, 19, is the one handing out literature at informational booths. He uses pictures and videos he and his colleagues have taken during raids of three Ohio egg farms. He risks arrest for trespassing at the egg farms, but he is buoyed by the moral conviction he shares with animal-rights activists worldwide. "This is an urgent issue," he said. "Lives are on the line every day."

Like Runkle, Tim Weaver learned about chickens at a young age. When Weaver was 4 or 5, his father put a broom in his hands and told him to sweep the family's barns. And he did. As he grew older, he was given more responsibility. Pack the eggs, his father said. Feed the hens. And he did.
At 35, Weaver took over as president of Weaver Bros. Inc. in Versailles, Ohio, the farm his grandfather founded in 1930. The company markets eggs laid by 3 million hens. And this year, at 53, Weaver reluctantly became a member of an exclusive group - egg farmers charged with inhumane treatment of hens by Mercy for Animals. Of Ohio's 63 licensed megafarms (100,000 or more hens), two others have been raided by the group, Buckeye Eggs in Croton and Daylay Egg Farm Inc. in West Mansfield. In March, Runkle began showing pictures that he said were taken during a December raid at Weaver Bros. Runkle sent pictures and videotape to various media and posted photos on the group's Web site. Weaver quickly shuffled through a stack of the pictures. His eyes were dark with displeasure as he looked at small cages stuffed with bedraggled, grimy hens, their heads swollen with hideous growths. He scanned photos of grocery carts overflowing with dead birds, their blood dripping onto a cement floor. In one picture, Runkle cradles a hen he said he rescued from a pile of dead birds. "I don't know if they're definitely our birds," Weaver said. The pictures could have been staged, Weaver said, because allowing such conditions would be economic suicide. "No one cares more about my chickens than me," he said vehemently. "If they're unhealthy, they don't lay eggs, and I'm out of business." He proudly displayed his United Egg Producers certification that his farm meets the new standards for hen care. But were these pictures faked? Weaver reported a break-in to the Darke County sheriff in December, after a henhouse door had been kicked open, its frame splintered, leaving cold air to flow in. Weaver said 40 birds died from the cold. Weaver, a lawyer, stressed that he's not accusing the activists of the break-in. However, he acknowledged that he is exploring prosecution of Mercy for Animals for the break-in. "We're concerned about biosecurity. Chickens are dying all over the country from poultry diseases," Weaver said. Runkle said the activists entered through an unlocked door and took biosecurity precautions to protect the birds from disease.

Four activist groups nationwide have staged such "open rescues" without incurring legal charges, he said, and he doesn't expect that anyone will be charged. "The egg industry tries to avoid publicity to keep their abusive practices out of the spotlight," Runkle said. " . . . I laugh at the thought that the farmers are concerned about their hens." However, after Mercy for Animals raided Daylay, Daylay President Kurt Lausecker allowed Union County Humane Society board members to tour his farm. They were pleased with what they saw, said board President Brian Ravencraft. "We walked around in there and didn't see anything like the films Mercy for Animals gave us. I was pretty impressed with the hens' living conditions." Buckeye did not respond to Runkle's alleged raid. Weaver gave a Plain Dealer reporter and photographer a look into one barn at his farm. Wearing white biosecurity suits, plastic boots, hairnets and gloves, we accompanied him into a shed housing 212,000 hens. It's called Dew Fresh Farm. He required us to keep to one end of the house, separated from the sea of birds by a conveyer-belt egg collection system. As the belts rolled, they carried thousands of blood- and manure-splattered eggs to a room where they were washed and packed. Don Wise, an industry veteran, didn't see these eggs but he said dirty eggs are a sign of hen stress or illness. "Leave the human emotions out of it. These birds are fine," Weaver said irritably. "Am I ever going to satisfy Mercy for Animals? No, they just want us gone."

It's not realistic to expect egg farms to disappear, as some might like. But a humane egg farm is not only possible, but can be profitable, said Richard Wood, of Food Animal Concern Trust. Wood pointed to the success of Nest Eggs, a 900,000-hen project he ran from the mid-1980s until last fall. "There's inhumanity from start to finish, and we knew we couldn't solve everything," Wood said. "We decided that caging the birds their entire lives caused the most suffering." Therefore, hens in Nest Eggs were allotted 2 square feet each in a cage-free environment, and nesting and dusting areas. Nest Eggs also served as a research base to study Salmonella Enteriditis, a bacterium that occurs predominantly in shell eggs in the United States. It causes fever and intestinal upsets. "Salmonella Enteriditis does seem to spike after molting," he said, so Nest Eggs hens also weren't starved to induce molting. The Nest Eggs program was discontinued after the organization was satisfied that an egg farm could be humanized without destroying the farm's economic viability, he said. "We had a tight profit margin." Consumers hold the key to creating a more humane egg industry, Wood said. "I think people are willing to spend a little bit more to make that difference," he said.

A 1999 survey conducted for the American Humane Association found that 44 percent of consumers would pay 5 percent more for food labeled "humanely raised." Humane egg farming also works for Wisconsin-based Egg Innovations, said President John Brunnquell, who contracts for eggs raised on Mennonite family farms in Ohio. His organic and brown eggs are produced cage free, according to the American Humane Association's "Free Farmed" standards. The standards forbid starving hens to induce molting and require 144 to 324 square inches per bird, depending on availability of perches, dust baths and nesting boxes. Brunnquell, a second-generation egg farmer, said he sees an increase in awareness of the Free Farmed program. "I'm not saying all large farms are terrible," he said. "I know producers who shouldn't be in business and those who are doing well even though their birds are in cages."

There are 30 million laying hens in Ohio, said Wise, the outspoken Ohio sales manager for Sauder Amish Country Eggs of Winesburg. "Can we say that all their owners are Class A individuals? Probably not," he said. But he vouched for the 11 farms that produce eggs for Sauder. Wise knows the industry inside and out. In the early days, egg farms "seemed like the greatest thing since sliced bread." Unbridled growth, he said, has put the industry in jeopardy. "We're our own worst enemy," Wise said. "We know what the problems are." Wise wanted to demonstrate that some farmers are doing it right. He stepped jauntily into a small hen barn owned by Arlen Hostetler of Smithville, a third-generation farmer. He has almost 35,000 caged hens, producing about 30,000 eggs a day. Their manure is used to fertilize fields where Hostetler grows grains to feed them. "He's got a leg up on [industry] standards," Wise said, his voice rising over the din of bok-boks and squawks. "He's always done 60 square inches per bird." Hostetler stood nearby, his eyes scanning the sea of caged hens. Each morning he walks the aisles between cages, culling dead or sick birds. "You can tell a sick chicken. They sit there and stare at you," he said. He expects to find two or three dead birds a day. Any more and he calls in a specialist. "I don't stuff extra birds in my cages, and I don't think others should either," he said. "The new standards will level things out."

Old MacDonald is counting on it. Then all he'll have to worry about is meeting the government's environmental regulations and pleasing the neighbors. State rules still short of ideal, some say

Plain Dealer Reporter, Fran Henry, 06/02/03

It was once the middle of nowhere: the flatlands where Wyandot County Highway 77 crosses a Marseilles Township gravel road. That was before 16 green barns filled with 3 million hens fractured the serenity. You see it all from the front windows of the ranch-style home Robert Bear built in 1967 for his wife, Rosie, and their three children - a panorama including the 200-acre farm where Robert grew up, the site of the log cabin where his father was born in 1899 and the 80-acre farm where his grandfather raised sheep and hogs. But look out the back window and you'll see a bulwark of windowless barns standing aloof, the sun glancing off their broad silver roofs. The complex is one of four owned by Buckeye Egg Farm, an 11-million hen company whose lawsuit-plagued history of fly infestations, waste runoff and noxious odors has embarrassed the egg industry and cast doubt on its ability to produce eggs without harming the environment and annoying the neighbors. Since April 2002, Buckeye's permits to operate have been under review by the state. "Everyone in the egg industry is shamed by what goes on there," said Bart Slaugh of Eggland's Best of King of Prussia, Pa.

While Buckeye has been the most visible, it is not the only offender among factory farms. Problems prompted citizen-action groups to spring up in rural counties, calling into question the government's ability to keep the land and people safe from factory farms. Ohio had no rules governing factory farm operations until last August. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, which regulated megafarms then, made decisions to issue permits on a case-by-case basis - a method Columbus attorney Rick Sahli called "unreliable, prone to manipulations and unreviewable." Sahli, who was deputy director and chief counsel for the Ohio EPA in the 1980s, is the lawyer for two citizens groups formed to fight Buckeye.

The new rules require the state's 140 megafarms, including 63 egg factories, to submit plans for manure management, rodent and insect control and dead-animal disposal. Farms have five years to comply with the new rules to qualify for a permit to operate. "There are some good provisions, but the state should do a better job of setting the bar high in a number of areas," said Susan Studer King, who represented the Ohio Environmental Council on the new rules advisory board. The council has been a vocal critic of the EPA's oversight of factory farms. She would like all farms to have a certified livestock manager, not only farms with 1 million birds or more; she would like manure storage areas to be set farther from drinking water supplies; and she would like additional conditions for permit denials. There is no limit to the number of factory farms permitted per county.

The new rules also do not address the problem of nuisance odor and air pollution. "Even if the odor is overwhelming, if the operator is following the law, they can't be cited for odor," said Studer King. A state EPA can monitor air quality if it chooses, said Sahli. "Other state EPAs deal with odor, but the Ohio EPA avoids the issue," he said. Bob Hodandosi, air pollution division chief for the Ohio EPA, said Ohio law restricts the EPA's ability to apply air pollution control requirements to megafarms. "We have relied on our division of surface water to make sure the manure is being handled properly, regarding reduction in odors," he said.

Until December, the U.S. EPA required megafarms to get wastewater discharge permits only if they had a history of manure runoffs or were at high risk for runoffs. About 4,500 operations qualified. New regulations require all the nation's 15,500 factory farms to develop and follow a plan for handling manure and wastewater. These permits will be issued by the state EPA, but the state plans to transfer the authority to the agriculture department. The legislature is in the process of making Ohio law compatible with federal law. When the U.S. EPA issued its new rules, it acknowledged that it hadn't kept up with growth in the livestock industry nor addressed modern environmental needs. Critics, however, think the new regulations are still inadequate.

The National Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the Waterkeeper Alliance sued the EPA. They charged that the new rules shield farms from liability for damage caused by animal waste pollution; don't require farms to monitor groundwater or prevent animal waste from leaking into groundwater and contaminating drinking water wells, and exempt contaminated runoff by calling it "agricultural stormwater."

When the new state rules were implemented in August, responsibility for their enforcement was transferred from the Ohio EPA to the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Environmentalists opposed the transfer because the Department of Agriculture, which historically advocated for agriculture, would be hard pressed to police the farms. "It will take a few years to see if the program changes the culture or the culture changes the program," said Bryan Clark, legislative advocate for the Ohio Public Interest Research Group. Robert Bear is more direct. "It's like the fox guarding the henhouse."

The question now is whether the new state and federal standards can eliminate the industry's threat to the environment. Sahli is doubtful. "The regulatory system is so decrepit that it can only react to life-threatening events," he said. "We're waiting for a crisis." To the Bears, the crisis is ongoing. It began Oct. 19, 1997, when the first birds arrived at the new Buckeye plant behind their house. Rosie remembers that easily because it was also her late father's birthday. The following February, the ugly aspects of living near an egg farm became real. Their garage filled with flies eager to get into the house, and the air became heavy with the stench of chicken manure. Their well went down 17 feet, and in time, manure spills signaled the need to test the well regularly for bacteria and nitrates.

They saw the problems coming years earlier. They began resisting the growth of Buckeye Egg in 1995, the year Rosie retired from 30 years of teaching kindergarten at Marseilles Elementary School. Robert already had retired after 34 years at the Kildeer Wildlife Area. They joined Concerned Citizens of Central Ohio, one of the first citizens-action groups to organize against factory farms, and one of the few remaining.

The Bears, historians for the citizens-action group, document problems and lawsuits and keep detailed calendars to note the changes in fly activity and the presence of odor. They've filled nine albums with newspaper clippings about the factory farm transgressions and some citizens-group triumphs against the farms, most notably EPA's withdrawal of permits that would have allowed Buckeye to increase its Wyandot County flock from 2.5 million to 3.3 million hens and from doubling its Licking County flock from 4.5 million to 9 million.

But they don't need to consult their books to recall some of the worst days. During the Bear family reunion on June 27, 1999, Rosie passed out fly swatters so guests could work on fly control. Robert filmed the picnic, panning slowly to show flies covering everything in sight - the deck, charcoal grill, siding, pant legs, shoes and toys. On April 15, 2002, when Rosie was a substitute teacher at Marseilles Elementary School down the road, she spent the whole day fighting flies. "I was steamed when I got out of school," she said. "I called the Ohio EPA and the attorney general, who said the principal had to call." The next month, the principal testified at Buckeye's ninth contempt charge hearing in six years for violating environmental law. Subsequently, the farm was ordered to shut down barns to reduce its flock, thus reducing manure production. While other Buckeye neighbors have moved away in disgust, tradition binds the Bears to the land. "We feel we were here first, and they need to clean up their act," Rosie said.

David Armentrout, who ran the beleaguered Buckeye operation until April 30, said he believes he was making progress. "We have been able to effect a real turnaround, but there's still a lot of work to be done. It takes constant vigilance," said Armentrout, managing member of Compliance Consulting LLC of Middletown. On May 1, Fresh Eggs Manager LLC of Marietta, Pa., took over as manager. The manure pits are cleaned twice a year, the manure sold to farms for fertilizer. Buckeye employees inspect the manure pits daily to look for potential water leaks. "They walked the pits previously," Armentrout said, "but it's a very controlled process now in coordination with an insect and rodent control plan." He expects Buckeye to retain its permits to operate. "We've demonstrated that these facilities can be run in an environmentally responsible manner," he said.
The Bears, who last complained about flies in late March, can only hope.

Of all of Ohio's egg farms, Daylay of West Mansfield stands out as coming closest to meeting the challenges of responsible ownership, said Studer King of the Ohio Environmental Council. "They're not perfect," she said, citing a serious manure-spill fish kill several years ago. "But they've made the effort to go above and beyond what regulations require." Daylay has an exceptional manure management program, she said. In the manure program, conveyor belts beneath the cages collect chicken droppings and move them to an adjacent shed where they compost for 40 days, changing into organic fertilizer. Half the farm has been in the program 14 years, and when its four oldest buildings are replaced in the next five to eight years, they too will be brought on line. Each year, about 10,000 tons of compost are sold under the name Nature Pure. At best, it's a break-even proposition, said Lausecker. "But it gets rid of other problems, like flies and smells. We are making valuable fertilizer out of a liability," he said. The 2.8-million-hen farm is paying for an Ohio State University project researching air scrubbers, which remove ammonia from the composting-building's exhaust. Daylay president Kurt Lausecker said. "The system is about 15 years ahead of its time. If it works, it would really help us out." The retrieved ammonia is converted to ammonium sulfate, which can be sold as fertilizer.

There's something different about the birds at Daylay, too. Their beaks are natural, unlike about 90 percent of the nation's flock. Most commercial hens undergo beak trimming by age 10 days, ostensibly to minimize damage birds can inflict on one another under stress. Lausecker stooped beside a cage and tilted his hand this way and that, reflecting light with his golden wedding ring.
"See how curious they are," he said, as the birds gathered to watch his ring.

He said his birds do well without trimming. "We use higher cages, and they're not so stressed," he said, as he walked between cages housing 85,000 hens, about seven per cage. Before the United Egg Producers changed its standards, the same cages held 100,000 hens, nine per cage. In 2008, each cage will hold six hens each. Lausecker was on the industry's animal welfare advisory board that established the new standards. "It's my personal opinion that since [the hens] aren't so stressed, they're not inclined to hurt one another," he said. "We tried trimming them one year, but I saw blood. The sad truth is that [beak trimming] isn't done right sometimes."

Lausecker's hens also do not endure induced molting through starvation. Instead, they're fed a low-protein feed for a week or two in what he calls a soft molt. It works. They didn't induce molting at the farm where Robert Bear grew up, nor trim the hens' beaks. There were no cages, either. His dad's 200 or so chickens were free to roam the fenced-in apple orchard, take dust baths in a pile of ash and lay eggs in the henhouse.

The orchard is gone, replaced by scrubby volunteer maples, but in his mind's eye, Bear still sees the hens perching in the apple trees. Across the back field he sees the barns of Buckeye Eggs, where management struggles to gain industry and community respect. The egg industry itself is evolving, right under Bear's steady gaze. But not fast enough. "When you're fighting a big business, you can't quit," he said.


1996: Fly complaints in Mount Victory, Ohio.
August 1997: Fined $1 million by the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration for safety violations.
September 1997: Beetle infestation complaints near La Rue farm.
February 1999: Agrees to pay $180,000 settlement for selling dirty eggs.
April 25, 1999: Fertilizer release into Raccoon Creek in Licking County kills 11,500 fish.
May 27, 1999: Manure release into Lobdell Creek in Licking County kills all aquatic life for six miles.
June 2 and 7, 1999: Ohio Environmental Protection Agency observes illegal discharge of wastewater in Croton.
Dec. 1, 1999: State attorney general files 27-count complaint for enforcement of water pollution, safe drinking water, clean air and solid waste laws.
Dec. 21, 1999: Attorney general files injunction to stop manure and contaminated storm-water releases in Croton.
Feb. 28, 2000: Attorney general files motion regarding fly outbreaks and water permit violations at all facilities.
April 13, 2000: Judge calls Buckeye's environmental compliance record "abysmal" and orders compliance on nuisance and manure concerns.
Aug. 9, 2000: Fly outbreak at Goshen facility.
Jan. 16, 2001: Buckeye agrees to pay a civil penalty of $1.3 million for environmental infractions.
May 3, 2001: State files sixth set of contempt charges for fly outbreaks, illegal discharge of storm water and egg wash water.
Aug. 6, 2001: Fined $65,250 for contempt charges.
Dec. 3, 2001: Fined $25,000 for contempt.
April 3, 2002: Fined $50,000 for contempt.
July 2, 2002: Judge finds Buckeye responsible for fly outbreaks in Hardin, Wyandot and Marion counties.
Aug. 19, 2002: Ohio Department of Agriculture notifies Buckeye of intention to revoke operating permits.
March 2003: Buckeye is cited by the U.S. FDA for failing to carefully measure and monitor medications it adds to chicken feeds.

Source: Ohio Attorney General's Office briefing memo, U.S. FDA

United Poultry Concerns is a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl: http://www.UPC-online.org

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PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150
FAX: 757-678-5070

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