SALEM, Ohio – The two men who own and manage Esbenshade Egg Farms have been found not guilty of the animal cruelty charges filed against them in January 2006.
H. Glenn Esbenshade, owner, and Jay Musser, farm manager, were each charged with 35 counts of animal cruelty after an investigator for an animal rights group videotaped alleged inhumane conditions at the Mount Joy, Pa., egg farm. The video was turned over to Pennsylvania-certified humane officer Johnna Seeton, who filed the charges.
Verdict is in. Esbenshade and Musser pleaded not guilty to those charges, which carried a fine of $50-750 and 90 days in jail for each violation.
Testimony for the case ended in March and Magisterial District Judge Jayne Duncan handed down the verdict June 1.
“It shows our clients were operating within normal agricultural practices,” said Chris Patterson, Esbenshade’s attorney.
In April 2006, Patterson told Farm and Dairy that Pennsylvania’s animal cruelty statute makes exceptions for “normal agricultural operations.”
Double standard. The animal rights group involved in the case is Washington D.C.-based Compassion Over Killing. The organization focuses on cruelty to animals in agriculture and promotes vegetarianism.
The group’s general counsel in this case, Cheryl Leahy, said the outcome would’ve been different if the animals in question had been dogs or cats. She added that the state’s double standard in animal abuse cases is troubling.
Erica Meier, executive director of Compassion Over Killing, said the average person would be appalled by the conditions revealed in the video.
“The decision speaks volumes about the way in which animals are permitted to be treated on factory farms,” she said.
Be aware. Although this ruling may bring farmers a bit of relief, it’s not the end of the road, according to Patterson.
“I think they have to be aware there will be attempts to infiltrate their operations, to uncover alleged cruelty,” he said.
Video. The case revolved around a video shot in December 2005 by Compassion Over Killing investigator John Brothers, who posed as an employee at the farm in order to gain access to the chicken houses.
The video allegedly depicted overcrowded living conditions, illness and injury, hens entangled in cages, birds impaled on cage wires and hens living amid the decomposing bodies of other birds.
Patterson said Seeton did not visit the farm before filing the charges.
Esbenshade Egg Farms is one of Pennsylvania’s largest egg producers, with 2.25 million chickens at three facilities.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Pa. animal cruelty case may reach settlement (8/17/2006)