Animal rights group targets Petaluma egg farm, Whole Foods Market (w/video)
A Bay Area animal rights group posted a graphic video Thursday showing conditions inside a Petaluma egg farm, part of a campaign designed to shame one of its major customers, Whole Foods Market, and tarnish the certification program that assures consumers its organic eggs were produced in a humane manner.
But representatives for the farm and the nonprofit group that certified its processes both insist the online video showed hens that were not part of the Certified Humane program, undermining the video’s key contention that even the best farm practices amount to “violence” against animals.
“We are 100 percent certain that they shot the wrong flock,” said Stevan Allen, a spokesman for Petaluma Farms, which produces both organic and conventional eggs raised without cages. The farm’s owners, Steve and Judy Mahrt, also disputed the contention that animals had been mistreated.
Humane Farm Animal Care, a Herndon, Va., nonprofit agency that administers the Certified Humane program, said it has only certified the organic laying hens at Petaluma Farms, a portion of the farm’s animals. The hens shown in the video “were never certified by us,” said founder Adele Douglas.
Direct Action Everywhere, which was founded in Berkeley in early 2013, posted a 19-minute professionally produced video on its website Thursday, along with statements saying Whole Foods is deceiving its customers by supplying inhumanely produced food.
The advocacy group says its video, taken by activists who climbed over barbed-wire fences and into Petaluma Farms’ barns on multiple nights in 2013 and 2014, shows hens “suffering, in misery and sickness, and death.” Direct Action Everywhere maintained the video was the first to reveal conditions in a “certified humane” farm.
Petaluma Farms, run by the Mahrts for more than 30 years, produces both non-organic, cage-free and certified organic eggs. The organic eggs are sold by Whole Foods under its 365 label, as well as by Organic Valley, a nationwide agriculture cooperative based in Wisconsin.
The farm in the video is identified simply as a “humane certified” farm in Northern California. The images show at least three activists walking through dark henhouses with a camera and lights. Dozens of hens appear huddled together, some with feces on them and some missing significant numbers of feathers. The activists took one hen that appeared extremely lethargic.
Direct Action Everywhere organizer Priya Sawhney said her group is using the video - which she suggested was indicative of widespread problems at Petaluma Farms - to alert consumers that Whole Foods isn’t being honest about its animal products.
“They talk about how they source from farms that raise their animals humanely,” she said. “They say ‘values matter’ … but we want to expose their lies.”
Petaluma Farms rejected the claims that animals are mistreated on its Cavanaugh Lane farm.
“We are truly proud of our record as leaders and innovators in the area of poultry care,” Steve Mahrt said in a written statement. “A recent online video uses extremely selective footage to suggest that a few hens that should have been removed are representative of our entire farm.
“We spend every day with our hens, and given that their humane treatment has always been part of our core values, we find the video to be extremely offensive,” the statement said. “The video in no way reflects our practices or the overall health of our flocks.”
Petaluma Farms wasn’t aware of the break-ins until the video was published. The farm contacted police, but no formal legal action has yet been taken, Mahrt’s spokesman said.
The video was the second one publicized recently at a Sonoma County farm. In October, Mercy for Animals accused Reichardt’s Duck Farm of animal cruelty after an activist was hired and took surreptitious video. A subsequent investigation by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and two veterinarians found no violations of law.
Such a review can better answer questions of animal welfare than a video by a group that depicts matters “completely slanted toward their agenda,” said Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner Tony Linegar.
The bulk of the latest video focuses on Whole Foods’ image and animal-rights activists’ protests around the country, weaving in status updates on the bird removed from Mahrt’s farm. Activists said they took the bird to two veterinarians, hand-nursed her back to vitality and named her “Mei Hua,” or beautiful flower.
Whole Foods, which has 42 natural and organic stores in Northern California and 400 nationwide, decried the video’s characterization of its business practices.