SALEM, Ohio – One of Pennsylvania’s largest egg producers plans to plead not guilty to animal cruelty charges filed against it after an animal advocacy group allegedly documented chickens living in substandard conditions on the farm.
The charges were filed against H. Glenn Esbenshade, who owns Esbenshade Farms, and Jay Musser, farm manager, in the Lancaster County Magisterial District Court. Each man faces 35 counts of animal cruelty.
An investigator from Compassion Over Killing, who posed as an employee at Esbenshade Farms-North from Nov. 30 through Dec. 9, created a videotape allegedly showing overcrowded living conditions, hens suffering from untreated illnesses and injuries, birds with their wings and feet entangled in cages, injured birds removed from their cages and left in the aisles, birds impaled on cage wires and hens living amid the decomposing bodies of other birds.
The charges were filed after Compassion Over Killing presented the video to Johnna Seeton, a Pennsylvania-certified humane officer.
The other side. A Penn State University extension poultry educator tells a different story about this Mount Joy farm. Gregory Martin, who has done animal welfare audits on certain divisions of Esbenshade Farms through the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists, said he hasn’t seen the conditions allegedly depicted in the video.
Martin has not been to the specific farm site of Esbenshade Farms pinpointed in the case, but said he visited one of the farm’s other divisions last fall “and everything seemed to be in order.”
“The times I was in their managed houses, I didn’t see anything (like the video),” he said.
Martin said cases such as this are always troubling.
“Did it actually happen on the farm? I can’t answer that,” he said.
Erica Meier, executive director of Compassion Over Killing, said the investigator who made the video found the alleged conditions each day he or she was employed at Esbenshade Farms-North.
“These conditions are far from what any reasonable person could consider humane,” she said. “In this case, we’ve seen things much more egregious than standard conditions.”
Compassion Over Killing focuses on ending cruelty to animals in agriculture and promotes vegetarian eating. It is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C.
Lawyers for the Humane Society of the United States are assisting with the case.
Esbenshade Farms declined to comment to Farm and Dairy. A representative referred calls to Chris Herr, vice president of PennAg Industries Association. PennAg is an industry group to which Esbenshade Farms belongs.
Good record. Herr said that, to his knowledge, Esbenshade Farms has not been cited for anything in the past. Farm representatives also told Herr the humane officer who filed the charges has not actually been to the facility in question.
According to Herr, no one at the farm has seen the video.
“There as been no viewing of the actual video with the exception of what has been taken to the media,” he said.
Penn State’s Martin said Esbenshade Farms participates in the Pennsylvania Egg Quality Assurance Program, which means the farm is frequently visited and assessed by nonemployees.
“There are lots of people other than the managers themselves who are looking after the farm,” Martin said.
But Meier noted the farm does not take part in the United Egg Producers voluntary certification program.
“The fact that Esbenshade does not participate in that demonstrates how truly negligent they are and that they don’t care for the welfare of their hens,” she said.
Meier said her organization hopes to accomplish one goal through this situation.
“What we want consumers to basically take away from this is every time they purchase eggs from caged birds, they are supporting animal cruelty,” she said.
Not accepted. Herr and Martin said animal abuse is not taken lightly, nor is it tolerated in Pennsylvania.
“We at PennAg and the industry here in Pennsylvania in no way condone the inhumane treatment of chickens or any other animals,” Herr said.
Each animal cruelty count carries a fine of $50-750. Punishment also includes the possibility of 90 days in jail.
Herr said farm personnel expect the case to be heard in the local court sometime during the next three to six months.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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