New Target In 'Battery-Cage' Chicken Crusade
By Dan Noyes, ABC 7 News

Feb. 1, 2006 - We have a follow-up now to an ABC7 I-Team investigation into the eggs you buy. It's been almost three months since we first showed you undercover pictures of battery cages -- a common farming technique used to confine hens. Now there's new fallout from our report.

There was action in both the courts and in the grocery stores on Wednesday. The Humane Society filed a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court and Trader Joe's has pulled its store-brand battery cage eggs off the shelves. We also have new undercover pictures from Northern California egg farms.

Our tape from the group "East Bay Animal Advocates" shows how 95 percent of all eggs in this country are produced -- in battery cages. As many as 10 hens are crammed into a single cage. They can't walk or even spread their wings. Their beaks have to be clipped so they won't cannibalize each other. The lack of activity sometimes leads to paralysis or to bones so brittle, they break.

Activist: "Just so many animals smashed into a small location that couldn't move."

This activist snuck into a supplier for Trader Joe's in the Central Valley town of Hilmar and took these pictures of battery cages.

Activist: "Certainly if most people knew the animal cruelty and suffering that went into battery egg production, they would not support it."

The Humane Society of the United States had been pressuring Trader Joe's for months to stop selling eggs from battery cages. Just four days after the I-Team first broadcast these pictures in November 2005, the company gave in. Beginning today (Wednesday), Trader Joe's will sell only cage-free eggs under its brand name, and the company sells more than 100-million of its private label eggs a year.

Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society of the United States CEO: "And I think the logic is there. Most Americans don't want to see animals reared for food, whether it's for eggs or for meat, treated in an entirely inhumane way."

Wayne Pacelle says Whole Foods, Wild Oats Natural Marketplace, and cafeterias at 75 colleges and universities have switched to cage-free eggs because of the Humane Society campaign. Their next target? Ben & Jerry's.

Wayne Pacelle: "We're in discussions with them. They've told us it looks very promising. We're hoping that's going to be the next marker in our move to eliminate battery cage hen production in this country."

Ben & Jerry's already uses cage-free eggs in their ice cream sold in Europe, but they use battery cage eggs in this country. No comment from the company headquarters in Vermont tonight, but their latest "Social and Environmental Assessment" says, "We've not yet found an economically manageable way to use free-range eggs for our U.S. production."

On the other front today, Humane Society lawyers filed a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court. It says the State Board of Equalization and Controller Steve Westly "have wasted and illegally used public funds" by giving tax breaks to farmers for the purchase of battery cages.

Jon Lovvorn, Humane Society of the United States Lawyer: "The cruelty code specifically requires anyone confining an animal to give it an adequate exercise area. We don't think battery cages provide that. So, the BOE expenditure of funds to subsidize those cages violates state law and that's the basis for our lawsuit."

Officials at the Board of Equalization wouldn't comment on the lawsuit and Steve Westly's office says the controller "just cuts the checks and follows the law."

By the way, Trader Joe's still sells battery cage eggs from other companies. They're cheaper than cage free and some people care more about the price than the issue.

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HSUS Online: http://www.hsus.org/farm_animals/farm_animals_news/hsus_sues_ca_battery_cage_tax_break.html

EBAA Egg Investigation Online: http://www.cal-eggs.com