McDonald's, Target fire Minnesota egg company

  • Article by: MIKE HUGHLETT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 19, 2011 - 10:26 AM

Litchfield-based Sparboe Farms is facing allegations of animal cruelty after an undercover video surfaced this week.

McDonald's Corp. and Target said Friday that they had booted a Minnesota-based egg supplier in the wake of an undercover video documenting alleged animal abuse.

The hidden-camera video was shot by the Chicago animal rights group Mercy for Animals at facilities of Sparboe Farms, the nation's fifth-largest egg producer. Taken in Minnesota, Iowa and Colorado, the video portrays crowded cages common in the egg industry, but also shows one worker swinging a chicken by a rope or chain and another stuffing a hen in a co-worker's pants pocket.

Sparboe was also cited this week by federal food regulators for serious violations of salmonella prevention rules, including unsatisfactory rodent control.

After the video came to light, McDonald's told its U.S. egg supply chain manager, Minnetonka-based Cargill Inc., that it would no longer accept Sparboe eggs.

Cargill said in a news release that it, too, was "disturbed" by the images in the video and has suspended Sparboe as a supplier.

Late Friday, Target confirmed that it had not only dumped Sparboe as a supplier, but was also pulling Sparboe eggs off the shelves at Super Target stores nationwide.

"Having been made aware of the unacceptable conditions in the company's egg laying facilities, effective immediately, Target will discontinue its business relationship with Sparboe Farms," the Minnesota-based retailer said in a press release. "We are currently in the process of notifying our stores to remove the product from our shelves."

The alleged abuse didn't occur at the Iowa Sparboe facility that directly supplies McDonald's, but McDonald's sustainability director Bob Langert said in a news release that "the behavior on tape is disturbing and highly unacceptable."

"McDonald's wants to assure our customers that we demand humane treatment of animals by our suppliers," Langert said.

Beth Sparboe Schnell, president of Litchfield-based Sparboe, said in a statement that she "was deeply saddened . . . because this isn't who Sparboe Farms is. Acts depicted in the footage are totally unacceptable and are completely at odds with our values as egg farmers. In fact, they are in direct violation of our animal care code of conduct."

The company said that after learning of the video, it launched a "comprehensive internal investigation," and brought in an expert from Iowa State University to conduct an animal welfare audit.

"The auditor confirmed that we are in full compliance with our animal welfare policies," Sparboe said. The company has terminated four employees it says were "complicit in this disturbing activity."

The company did not respond to an e-mail seeking further comment.

In the video, a Sparboe worker is interviewed and says of some of his co-workers:

"The torture that they put these animals through. They get mad and they just whack it with a [expletive] hook."

Mercy for Animals has made a name for itself in the past several years with undercover videos of alleged animal abuse.

Earlier this year, Costco stopped carrying meat from Iowa Select Farms, one of the nation's largest hog producers, after Mercy for Animals shot a video of live piglets being thrown across rooms and castrated without pain killers.

The Sparboe video's release coincides with a warning letter issued Wednesday to Sparboe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which earlier this year inspected five Sparboe plants, including one in Litchfield.

The FDA concluded that Sparboe didn't take appropriate measures after finding unacceptable rodent activity.

Also, Sparboe didn't have a written prevention plan for salmonella enteritidis and failed to have adequate salmonella testing for young hens.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003

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