United Poultry Concers
12 January 2011
UPC Letters Detailing Complaint Re: Black Eagle Farm
a.k.a. Piney River Farms LLC



United Poultry Concerns PO Box 150 Machipongo, VA 23405
Phone: 757-678-7875 Fax: 757-678-6070 Website: www.upc-online.org

December 16, 2010

NOP Compliance
Agricultural Marketing Service
United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Mall Stop 0268
Washington, DC 20250
Five pages via email: NOPcompliance@usda.gov

Complaint Re: Black Eagle Farm a.k.a. Piney River Farms LLC

Dr. Ralph Glatt, Owner
Black Eagle Farm
596 Martin Lane
Piney River, Virginia 22964
Phone: 434-277-8497

United Poultry Concerns is a nonprofit animal protection organization incorporated in Maryland and headquartered in Machipongo, VA. We are filing this complaint against Black Eagle Farm, a.k.a. Piney River Farms, LLC, for suspected violations of the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 and its implementing regulations under the National Organic Program. We respectfully request an investigation of Black Eagle Farm’s “organic” poultry and egg production husbandry standards, practices and claims.

Black Eagle Farm’s website, which includes photos of healthy-looking hens in an attractive free-range outdoor setting, states at www.blackeaglefarm.com and www.blackeaglefarm.com/POULTRY.html: “Our organic pullets and layers are kept under stringent USDA organic standards and according to our own organic, and animal and environmentally friendly criteria.” And: “The eggs are . . . packed daily to organic and humane standards. We are members of the Organic Trade Association. The birds have free access to both ample inside housing and outside ranging.”

Documentation of conditions at Black Eagle Farm from December 2009 to the present challenges these claims. On December 10, 2009, Daniel A. Kovich, DVM, Staff Veterinarian for Animal Care and Health Policy, VA Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), posted an email to his VDAC colleagues that “a flock of approximately 25,000 organic laying hens had been without feed for five days.”

In an email dated December 7, 2010, Rachel Touroo, DVM-VDACS, said that to her knowledge, “there are no animals present at this facility”; yet an article about Black Eagle Farm, posted on the Internet, November 18, 2010, reported that Black Eagle Farm currently has “36,000 chickens, 250 pigs and 200 head of cattle” (Katherine Reynolds Lewis, “Virginia farm supplies eateries in D.C. despite animal-care violations,” http://my.tbd.com/comments/?id=32815&type=story.

According to “Organic Poultry Production in the United States,” published by the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (http://www.attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/organicpoultry.html):

Organic refers to the way livestock and agricultural products are raised and processed. Organic production focuses on animal health and welfare, good environmental practices and product quality. Housing should maintain a comfortable temperature, provide ventilation and clean bedding and allow birds to exercise and conduct natural behaviors. Cages are not permitted. In addition, the birds must have access to the outdoors for exercise areas, fresh air and sunlight and must be able to scratch and dustbathe. Basic requirements for organic poultry include certified organic feed, including pasture.

If producers force-molt, they should provide a molt diet and should provide a light period of at least eight hours. The NOP does not have specific standards on forced molting, but generally certifiers do not permit it due to stress to the bird.

Although the welfare of the bird is a cornerstone of organic poultry production, welfare assurance programs, such as Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) have measurable standards and can document that birds have adequate access to feed and water, have good litter and air quality, and that caretakers are trained to perform, and do perform, responsible husbandry on a daily basis.

Adequate nestboxes and perches are needed for laying birds.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Conditions for Laying Hens at Black Eagle Farm, a.k.a. Piney River Farms LLC December 2009 to the Present

Black Eagle Farm is owned by Dr. Ralph Glatt in Piney River, Nelson County, Virginia. Located in central Virginia 100 miles from Richmond and 130 miles from Washington, DC, Black Eagle Farm describes itself as a “traditional family farm with a long history of treating our animals and the environment with respect.” Black Eagle Farm announced completion of its “innovative organic layer [hen] house in April 2008” and the selling of its “first USDA certified organic free-range pastured brown eggs in June 2008.”

However, on November 10, 2009, Humane Farm Animal Care, which had previously certified Black Eagle, revoked the farm’s humane certification following suspension in October 2009.

On September 16, 2010, Maria Divencenzo of Quality Assurance International (QAI), the organic certifier of Black Eagle Farm-Piney River Organics under the USDA’s National Organic Program, confirmed to attorney, Gina Schaecher, that QAI had sent letters of noncompliance to Black Eagle Farm stating that its organic certification would be suspended if the farm did not bring its operation into compliance with the USDA’s National Organic Program. As a result, Black Eagle voluntarily surrendered its organic certification.

According to Schaecher, who initiated the investigation of Black Eagle Farm on January 19, 2010: “QAI then sent a complaint, reporting the compliance issues to the National Organic Program.” A month later, QAI got a call from A Bee Organic, another organic certification agency, who said that Black Eagle was “again seeking organic certification, through a new certifier, A Bee Organic.”

On September 20, 2010, Sarah Costin of A Bee Organic, based in California, told Schaecher that on August 3, 2010, it had certified Piney River Farm, LLC (previously known as Piney River Organics, LLC) as compliant with CFR 7 Part 205, the United States organic regulations, for “production of pullets and layer hens, and handling of eggs.”

Meanwhile, however, on August 12, 2010, Adele Douglass, Executive Director of Humane Farm Animal Care, emailed Schaecher that documents obtained by Schaecher under a Freedom of Information Act request January 8, 2010, modified January 19, 2010, from the VA Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services January 19, 2010, had assisted HFAC’s decision not to recertify Black Eagle-Piney River as a “humane” farm under HFAC’s Certified Humane Raised & Handled program.

FOIA documents obtained by attorney Gina Schaecher from VDACS, January 19, 2010, include the following information about Black Eagle Farm :

On December 1, 2009, the Virginia Department for Animal and Food Industry Services filed a RECORD OF COMPLAINT citing dogs on the Black Eagle Farm property “without any provision for adequate care” and “various species of agricultural animals apparently receiving minimal care” and indications that “Nelson County animal control is not responsive to public concerns regarding this property, and may be in collusion with the property’s current manager.”

On December 10, 2009, Daniel A. Kovich, DVM, MPH, Staff Veterinarian for Animal Care and Health Policy with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, sent an email to his colleagues stating that “Black Eagle Farm, located in Nelson County, is currently undergoing foreclosure” and that Nelson County animal control, as well as his office, had been receiving “numerous calls” regarding the condition of the sheep and working sheep dogs on the property.

Dr. Kovich noted that while investigating these complaints, a Nelson County animal control officer discovered “that a flock of approximately 25,000 organic laying hens had been without feed for five days, and that farm management also reported that they euthanized approximately the same number more due to lack of resources.”

On December 16, 2009, Rachel M. Touroo, DVM, Staff Veterinarian for Animal Care, VA Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), visited the farm and reported her observations to Sandy Solar, Nelson County Animal Control Officer. Among the discoveries she cited were numerous animals, including dogs, suffering from lameness, malnutrition, emaciation, lack of veterinary care and general squalor including moldy hay for the sheep and goats. Concerning the laying hens, Dr. Touroo told Officer Solar:

It appears that the flock of 25,000 free-range laying hens was not being provided with necessary feed as a few birds from each house were found to be extremely thin to emaciated. . . . It was reported by you that the birds were without food for 7 days at the beginning of November and again without food for 5 days at the beginning of December. The farm manager also stated during the inspection that the birds underwent a forced molting 5 weeks ago and at this time they were without food for 2 weeks.

In a letter of September 19, 2010 to Sarah Costin of A Bee Organic LLC, attorney Gina Schaecher cited Dr. Touroo’s report and went on to say:

We understand that the Organic Production and Handling Standards for animals used for meat, milk, eggs, and other animal products must be fed products that are 100 percent organic. However, the State Veterinarian’s report reveals that the animals at Black Eagle Farm whose products are marketed as organic were not being provided with necessary feed or veterinary care in clear violation of Virginia law. . . . Given the conditions at Black Eagle Farm, as documented by the State Veterinarian, we question how products from such sick and ill-treated animals can be certified as organic. Consumers generally pay a premium for organic products because the consumer perception is that such products are derived from healthy animals that are raised in accordance with the Organic Production and Handling Standards. It is our opinion that such was not the case at Black Eagle Farm as the animals were not being provided necessary feed, let alone organic feed.

Let it be noted that forced molting egg-laying hens by food deprivation is no longer accepted by the American Veterinary Medical Association or by United Egg Producers. The 2010 edition of “Animal Husbandry Guidelines for U.S. Egg Laying Flocks Guidelines for Molt Programs,” UEP states: “Only non-feed withdrawal molt methods will be permitted after January 1, 2006,” i.e. hens subjected to force molting must be fed. (pp. 9-10 of:
http://www.unitedegg.org/information/pdf/UEP_2010_Animal_Welfare_Guidelines.pdf )

Likewise, the AVMA opposes forced molting by food deprivation. Effective July 2004 through 2010, the AVMA’s Animal Welfare Policy on “Induced Molting of Layer Chickens” states: “Neither water nor food should be withdrawn to induce molting.”
(http://www.avma.org/issues/policy/animal_welfare/molting.asp)

Conditions at Black Eagle Farm, November-December 2010

On November 18, 2010, a Washington, DC journalist named Katherine Reynolds Lewis published her findings on Black Eagle Farm in the online publication TBD.com. In “Virginia farm supplies eateries in D.C. despite animal-care violations,” Lewis describes Black Eagle Farm’s financial status following reports that the operation was in foreclosure and undergoing bankruptcy proceedings: “Nearly a year after the animal-care violations were discovered, Black Eagle farm owner Ralph Glatt is regrouping. His 2,400-acre property was sold at auction on Oct.

26 to repay a $5.29 million bank loan. . . . Glatt . . . has negotiated to purchase all the agricultural land from the buyer who won that parcel, according to Jim Woltz, president of Woltz & Associates, the Roanoke-based real estate auction company that performed the auction.”

Lewis’s article Nov. 18, 2010 states: “Currently, the farm has 36,000 chickens, 250 pigs and 200 head of cattle.” However, in an email on December 7, 2010, Rachel Touroo, DVM-VDACS stated: “At this time, it is my understanding that there are no animals present at this facility.”

Conclusion

United Poultry Concerns believes that Black Eagle Farm, a.k.a. Piney River Farms, LLC is in violation of the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 and its implementing regulations under the National Organic Program. We urge the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service to investigate this operation. A Bee Organic’s August 3, 2010 certification of Black Eagle Farm raises doubts. So do the discrepancies between Black Eagle Farm’s website pages and the animal abuse and neglect documented in 2009-2010 and the conflicting information as to whether there are 36,000 chickens and other farm animals currently residing at Black Eagle Farm.

According to Black Eagle Farm’s website at www.blackeaglefarm.com the public is not allowed on the farm to see the animals confined on the property. While biosecurity is invoked to support this prohibition, we view it as a rationale mainly designed to prevent the public from seeing for themselves how the chickens and other animals are actually living and being treated on this farm.

We look forward to your response to our complaint against Black Eagle Farm/Piney River Farms, LLC. Thank you for your attention to our concerns.

Sincerely,

Karen Davis, PhD, President
United Poultry Concerns
12325 Seaside Road, PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405
Phone: 757-678-7875
Fax: 757-678-5070
Email: Karen@upc-online.org
Submitted to USDA-AMS via email December 16, 2010

United Poultry Concerns is a nonprofit organization that addresses the treatment of domestic fowl in food production, science, education, entertainment, and human companionship situations and promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl. www.upc-online.org


December 2, 2010

United Poultry Concerns
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405
Phone: 757-678-7875
Email: Karen@upc-online.org
Website: www.upc-online.org

Daniel A. Kovich, DVM, MPH
Staff Veterinarian for Animal Care and Health Policy
VDACS Division of Animal & Food Industry Services
PO Box 1163
Richmond, VA 23218
Email: dan.kovich@vdacs.virginia.gov

Dear Dr. Kovich:

My letter concerns Black Eagle Farm in Piney Branch, Virginia. Specifically I am requesting information regarding the involvement of your office on behalf of the laying hens and other poultry at Black Eagle Farm.

Documents obtained from VDACS by Virginia attorney Gina Schaecher in January 2010 describe the appalling abuse and neglect of chickens and other animals by Black Eagle Farm in November-December 2009, including several long stretches of time when 25,000 or more “cage-free” confined hens were completely deprived of food and other minimal care by farm owner Ralph Glatt and manager John Dobbs. Officer Solar of the Nelson County Office of Animal Control told Rachel Touroo, DVM-VDACS that hens on the property whose eggs were being sold to customers (at inflated prices) had been without food from December 4th through December 8th.

Dr. Touroo further noted that the 25,000 hens on the property at the time of her visit were found to be “extremely thin to emaciated” in a house with unreported dead birds, and that these same hens had previously been deprived of food for seven straight days at the beginning of November, and that forced molting of the hens was being conducted by total food deprivation for two full weeks. Forced molting by food deprivation was formally condemned by the AVMA in 2004, and United Egg Producers’ Animal Husbandry Guidelines for U.S. Egg Laying Flocks permits “only non-feed withdrawal molt methods,” meaning that hens subjected to a forced molt must be fed
(www.upc-online.org/molting/).

According to your office, Nelson County Office of Animal Control has primary responsibility for ensuring that animal welfare practices are being implemented at Black Eagle Farm. How is your office monitoring the unannounced inspections Dr. Touroo recommended to Officer Sandy Solar to ensure enforcement of basic poultry welfare provisions: e.g. daily provision of fresh, clean, nourishing food; clean water; housing free of toxic ammonia gases and other pollutants; daily manure disposal; adequate living space (minimum 1.5 square foot per hen), and licensed veterinary care. Is Nelson County Animal Control filing written inspection reports with VDACS?

Black Eagle Farm’s website continues to misrepresent the farm’s treatment and housing of its birds, and visitors are said not to be allowed on the farm (except for the store), under the guise of “biosecurity.” Based on Black Eagle Farm’s documented record of animal cruelty and neglect, false advertising and customer deception, we view this prohibition largely as a way to keep the public from seeing how the farm’s birds and other animals being represented and marketed as “cage-free,” “animal-friendly,” “organic” etc. are actually living.

Thank you for your attention to our inquiries and concerns. I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Karen Davis, PhD
President

Black Eagle Farm: http://www.upc-online.org/pp/winter2010/black_eagle.html.
http://www.upc-online.org/organic/101118black_eagle_fraud.html


November 30, 2010

United Poultry Concerns
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405
Phone: 757-678-7875
Email: Karen@upc-online.org
Website: www.upc-online.org

Officers Sandy Solar and Carla Thompson
Nelson County Office of Animal Control
PO Box 336
Lovington, VA 22949

Dear Officers Solar and Thompson:

My letter concerns Black Eagle Farm in Piney Branch, Virginia. Specifically I am requesting information about your office’s implementation of recommendations by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Staff Veterinarians for Animal Care and Health Policy regarding the necessary and humane care of laying hens and other poultry at Black Eagle Farm.

Documents obtained from VDACS by Virginia attorney Gina Schaecher in January 2010 describe the appalling abuse and neglect of chickens and other animals by Black Eagle Farm in November-December 2009, including several long stretches of time when 25,000 or more “cage-free” confined hens were completely deprived of food and other minimal care by farm owner Ralph Glatt and manager John Dobbs. Officer Solar told Rachel Touroo, DVM-VDACS, that hens on the property whose eggs were being sold to customers (at inflated prices) had been without food from December 4th through December 8th.

Dr. Touroo further noted that the 25,000 hens on the property at the time of her visit were found to be “extremely thin to emaciated” in a house with unreported dead birds, and that these same hens had previously been deprived of food for seven straight days at the beginning of November, and that forced molting of the hens was being conducted by total food deprivation for two full weeks. Forced molting by food deprivation was formally condemned by the AVMA in 2004, and United Egg Producers’ Animal Husbandry Guidelines for U.S. Egg Laying Flocks permits “only non-feed withdrawal molt methods,” meaning that hens subjected to a forced molt must be fed.

According to Daniel Kovich, DVM-VDACS, Nelson County Office of Animal Control has primary responsibility for ensuring that animal welfare practices are being implemented at Black Eagle Farm. Please advise how your office is monitoring and enforcing poultry welfare provisions – including fresh, clean, nourishing food; clean water; housing free of toxic ammonia gases and other pollutants; daily manure disposal; and adequate living space (minimum 1.5 square foot) per hen. How often does your office inspect the laying hens and other poultry at Black Eagle Farm? What do your inspections consist of? Are they “unannounced” as Dr. Touroo said they should be? Are you filing written inspection reports with VDACS on your inspections? Please advise.

We respectfully request a substantive reply specifying the details of your oversight of the birds at Black Eagle Farm as soon as possible. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Karen Davis, PhD, President

Black Eagle Farm: http://www.upc-online.org/pp/winter2010/black_eagle.html.
http://www.upc-online.org/organic/101118black_eagle_fraud.html

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