| BELEAGUERED MEGAFARM SAYS ITS CHICKEN FEED FOLLOWS RULES
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
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 SQUAWK OVER OHIO'S EGGS
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
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
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
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,"
KEY DATES IN BUCKEYE EGG FARM'S TROUBLED HISTORY
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
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
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
Poultry Concerns, Inc.|
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