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McDonald's Corp. said Friday it's booted Minnesota-based Sparboe Farms as an egg supplier in the wake of an undercover video documenting alleged animal abuse at Sparboe facilities. Meanwhile, Sparboe, the nation�s fifth largest egg producer, this week was cited by federal food regulators for serious violations of salmonella prevention rules, including unsatisfactory rodent control. The video was shot by Mercy for Animals, a Chicago-based animal rights group. Taken at five Sparboe facilities in three states, including Minnesota, it portrayed crowded cages that are common in the egg industry, but also showed one worker swinging a chicken by a chain and another stuffing a hen in co-worker's pants.

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Mercy for Animals: Watch the undercover video


Which came first: Factory chicken farm or egg demand?

  • Article by: NICOLE WYATT
  • November 23, 2011 - 8:20 PM

Factory farming may not be pretty, but we all need to take a step back, look at how we got here and try to understand the industry on a scientific, nonemotional level.

On Oct. 31, the world population hit 7 billion. Our food animal industry has had to modify production methods to safely and efficiently meet the growing demand.

Yet our population is becoming increasingly urbanized, with little or no exposure to farming.

As a veterinary student, I entered school with people who had gone their entire lives without stepping foot on a farm prior to our large-animal rotations.

People who have not been exposed to large production farming have a difficult time understanding its current state. We have become an urbanized society susceptible to emotional reactions and extreme animal-rights propaganda.

In light of recent events regarding Sparboe Farms and Mercy For Animals (MFA), let's take the poultry industry as an example. The American Veterinary Medical Association has released a chart comparing housing methods in poultry.

The choice comes down to cramped housing that minimizes disease and injury but sacrifices natural behavior, or preserving natural behavior but increasing the incidence of disease, injury and subsequent suffering among the flock.

Disease and injury also mean a decline in food supply in the face of increasing demand. It is clear why agricultural practices have become what they are.

As a vegetarian who plans on being a small-animal practitioner, I can say that there are aspects of modern agricultural practices I don't like.

But I have also learned that they aren't quite as bad as they seem. I see room for improvement, along with the importance of providing food for our population.

Take the video released by MFA. The footage shows workers vaccinating chicks, trimming beaks and utilizing conventional cages, and MFA is trying to pass it off as extreme abuse.

Vaccination decreases the incidence of illness in the flock; trimming beaks decreases injuries and death, and conventional cages allow staff to efficiently manage a large flock and catch any disease outbreaks in more timely manner.

They portrayed arguably humane practices as inhumane to people unfamiliar with the industry.

The actions of a few individuals actually abusing the animals were troubling and unacceptable but are an example of bad people, not necessarily a bad industry.

I may not like the fact that hens are kept in cramped living conditions, but I find myself hard-pressed to come up with a viable, safe and economical alternative.

Target's egg shelves were empty across Minnesota last weekend. Consumers now see that we can't have the best of both worlds.

For now, Target and McDonald's will find a new supplier using the same production methods, with no real change occurring. The issue that MFA presented was not about an individual company but about what animal-rights organizations want changed in the egg industry.

For some in the industry, the pressure to change is becoming reality. Proposition 2 in California will require all eggs sold in the state to come from farms with either enriched cages or free-range methods by 2015.

The European Union ban on conventional cages starts in 2012 and is expected to cause a 12 to 20 percent increase in production costs.

Do we want more expensive food? My guess would be no, but many changes will come with a price that must be passed on to the consumer.

As consumers, it is your job to develop a better understanding of agriculture practices so that issues regarding animal welfare and our food supply are approached in a practical way.

You must also understand the consequences of any demands you make on the industry.

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Nicole Wyatt, who grew up in Minnesota, is a veterinary student in Claremont, Calif.

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