WAELDER, Texas (KXAN) - Several state agencies are coming under fire with a lawsuit filed Tuesda y in an effort to stop what the Animal Legal Defense Fund calls "horrific abuses to birds" and health risks to consumers posed by a Cal-Maine Foods, Inc. production plant in Central Texas.
"The horrifying sight of birds at the Cal-Maine egg production facility covered in filth and crammed in cages with the decaying corpses of other birds is not only shocking in its cruelty -- it is an affront to Texas law and a true health threat to consumers, who have real reason to be concerned about the safety of their eggs," said Stephen Wells, executive director of the national nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund.
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The Texas Public Health Commissioner , Texas Commissioner of Agriculture and Texas Animal Health Commission are the target of a suit that contends they failed to protect public health, public safety and animal welfare as Texas law states.
"What we filed suit over was clear violation of Texas law that prohibits overcrowding birds, unsanitary conditions and leaving dead and dying birds unattended," said Carter Dillard, the Animal Leagal Defense Fund's director of Litigation . "That's a threat to the health and safety to Texas citizens, and it's quite frankly prohibited by law. We want to call the agencies responsible to task to start protecting Texas citizens."
The suit -- filed in the Travis County District Court -- comes on behalf of concerned residents of Travis and Gonzalez counties who said they are at risk for contracting diseases such as salmonella that can be generated at dirty and improperly regulated egg production facilities, which they said can be seen at the Cal-Maine plant in Waelder.
"These animals lives a life of torture, really ... It's really over the top," said Dillard. "The state should move quickly to administer the state law to protect the health safety of Texas citizens and the welfare of the animals."
Dillard said demand letters were sent to each state agency at the beginning of the month, though they did not hear anything back but from one agency: the Texas Animal Health Commission.
"They didn't think they had jurisdiction, but we disagreed," said Dillard. "We didn't think their response clearly gave the reason that they didn't have jurisdiction."
The Animal Legal Defense Fund is representing three Texas plaintiffs who point out the human health risks posed by the nation's largest egg supplier at its chicken-raising and egg production facility about 66 miles southeast of Austin .
The suit is also asking the court to stop the "nightmarish conditions" allegedly uncovered at the Waelder Cal-Maine plant by the Humane Society of the United States in a four-week undercover investigation.
"This widely-disseminated and publicly available evidence showed hens confined in overcrowded cages with the rotting corpses of other birds, dead and decaying hens trapped under feeders near eggs being processed for human consumption, hens suffering from severe and bloody uterine prolapses, hens covered in feces from birds in cages above them, and decaying bodies of dead hens left throughout the coop on floors, cage ledges and tops, and on carts," reads the complaint.
In addition, the suit said, "The conditions exposed by the investigation of Cal-Maine are unlawful, and pose a direct and serious threat to human and animal health, welfare, and safety."
"This is the worst example of cutting corners," said Dillard. "You're saving money by treating these animals as if they weren't capable of suffering and taking risks with human health."
Dillard said the farms are doing that to maximize profit.
"They really should be employing a lot more Texas workers that need the jobs, reduce profits and give the animals the care and oversight they deserve."
The lawsuit asks the court to find that the state agencies must administer the law statewide in the future, the same law the plaintiffs said is being rampantly violated at the Texas production facility.
Cal-Maine officials said since they're not a named party in the suit, they had no comment. CFO Timothy Dawson's assistant, Delores McMillin, did say they were still reviewing the suit and waiting to get in contact with their attorney.
Dillard said since the plant was not directly named in the suit, the Animal League Defense Fund did not discuss the suit with them at all before filing, which happened at 6:18 p.m. Tuesday.
Though no illnesses were reported, the company recalled 288,000 eggs it bought from supplier Ohio Fresh Eggs after a test showed salmonella at the Ohio farm.
Just more than a week after issuing a voluntary recall of some of its eggs , Cal-Maine Foods, Inc. responded via its website on Nov. 17 to statements made by the
Humane Society of the United States, saying:
"All of the Company's facilities are operated in full compliance with existing environmental, health and safety laws and regulations and permits. Each employee involved in the care and handling of our hens is required to review, sign and comply with our Company code of conduct regarding the ethical treatment of hens which requires employees to report any possible violations."
In addition, company officials said, "All of Cal-Maine Foods' eggs are produced in accordance with United Egg Producers (UEP) animal care guidelines. Additionally, Cal-Maine Foods offers all of its customers the choice of cage-free eggs."
Company officials also pointed out in the statement that none of the eggs in the recent nationwide recalls were produced in Cal-Maine facilities.
According to the homepage of the Cal-Maine Foods, Inc. website, it sells the majority of its shell eggs in about 29 states in the southwestern, southeastern, midwestern and mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. They are headquartered in Jackson, Miss., and are a company primarily engaged in the production, grading, packing and sales of fresh shell eggs.
The company's homepage reads, "When it comes to eggs, we're at the center of it all."
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