McDonald’s egg supplier, Sparboe Farms, the country’s fifth largest egg producer, was the subject of an ABC News investigation that was broadcast last Friday on “20/20″. As a result, McDonald’s claims it will no longer accept eggs from Sparboe Farms.
The FDA issued a warning letter to Sparboe Farms dated November 14, 2011. The letter listed five different Sparboe locations and cited at least 13 significant violations of the federal egg rule designed to prevent salmonella outbreaks.
The violations included a host of safety issues, from cross- contamination risk to rodent control, and failure to maintain safety records.
“This is a warning that there is a systemic problem, not just at one barn or one location,” said former FDA food safety chief David Acheson, now an industry consultant.
According to the Huffington Post, Sparboe produces 300 million eggs a year, in regular, liquid, frozen and dried form, and ships them to restaurants and stores across the country. The company’s Vincent, Iowa, plant was previously the sole fresh egg supplier to every McDonald’s west of the Mississippi River.
Following the “20/20″ investigation regarding the unhealthy conditions at Sparboe Farms, both Target and McDonald’s announced they would no longer accept eggs from Sparboe Farms.
“Based upon recent information, we have informed our direct supplier, Cargill, that we will no longer accept eggs from its supplier, Sparboe,” wrote Bob Langert, a McDonald’s Vice President. “This decision is based on McDonald’s and Cargill’s concern regarding the management of Sparboe’s facilities.”
Mercy for Animals executive director Nathan Runkle said that McDonald’s action was “too little, too late.”
Sparboe Farms Recalled Eggs in 2010
Too little, too late, indeed. Because the only reason McDonald’s has severed ties with Sparboe Farms now is because of ABC’s news investigation exposing Sparboe Farms for numerous violations that the FDA reported on in part last year.
According to FDA records, Sparboe Farms issued an egg recall in September of last year of eggs produced by Wright County Eggs and Hillandale Farms and re-packaged by Sparboe Farms. The eggs were packaged under the Market Pantry and Sparboe Farms brand name.
And last year, there’s no question someone buying eggs for McDonald’s had to know Wright County Eggs and Hillandale Farms were involved in one of the largest egg recalls in U.S. history, implicating Sparboe Farms as a Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms re-wholesaler.
In 2010, over a half-billion eggs were recalled and 1,900 people were sickened because of salmonella contamination traced to Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms of Iowa . The Center for Disease Control (CDC) had received reports of 200 cases of Salmonella weekly from late June to early July 2010.
Earlier this year, Clark Kauffman with the Des Moines Register warned that one year after the massive half-billion Iowa egg recall, government inspectors continue to find unsanitary conditions and inadequate protections against salmonella on Iowa’s egg farms.
Kauffman pointed out that none of the violations resulted in penalties from state or federal agencies, and Iowa’s egg producers still aren’t required to notify state officials when they find salmonella.
FOIA records obtained by The Des Moines Register indicate some of Iowa’s major egg producers failed to meet minimum federal standards intended to protect consumers from salmonella triggering the nationwide egg recall in 2010.
Kauffman stressed critical elements in the FOIA report, such as the size of rodent infestations, the brand names under which the eggs are sold, and the names of diseases documented at the egg farms were redacted and withheld from the public.
Additionally, despite passage of new federal food safety laws, FDA regulations continue to fall short of protecting the public by allowing inspections at egg farms to be announced days in advance.
Undercover Egg Investigation
Mercy for Animals claims Sparboe Farms hired a worker who was in reality an undercover investigator for the group. The investigator was equipped with a pin-hole camera and documented case after case of egregious animal abuse and neglect, said Runkle, Mercy’s Executive Director.
Hidden-camera footage taken at Sparboe (see video) facilities in Iowa, Minnesota and Colorado reveals:
*Hens crammed into filthy wire cages with less space for each bird than a standard-sized sheet of paper to live her entire miserable life, unable to fully stretch her wings or engage in most other natural behaviors
*Workers burning off the beaks of young chicks without any painkillers and callously throwing them into cages, some missing the cage doors and hitting the floor
*Workers grabbing hens by their throats and ramming them into battery cages
*Rotted hens, decomposed beyond recognition as birds, left in cages with hens still laying eggs for human consumption
*A worker tormenting a bird by swinging her around in the air while her legs were caught in a grabbing device – violence described as “torture” by another worker
*A worker shoving a bird into the pocket of another employee without any regard for the animal’s fear and suffering
*Chicks trapped and mangled in cage wire – others suffering from open wounds and torn beaks
*Live chicks thrown into plastic bags to be suffocated
The video also shows how readily health hazards can be linked to large scale, low-cost egg producers on factory farms. “They’re the model of efficiency but they place an emphasis on profit over animal welfare,” said Runkle.
Mercy for Animals isn’t satisfied with McDonald’s decision to stop accepting eggs from Sparboe, said Matt Rice, the group’s director of operations.
“These are company-wide, policy-level abuses,” Rice said. “There’s a culture of cruelty and neglect at McDonald and its suppliers.”
The Huffington Post notes McDonald’s said it is participating in a three-year study that compares traditional versus cage-free hen housing systems, but Rice said the company continues to get most of its eggs from hens in battery cages that hold a lot of birds in cramped conditions.
“McDonald’s is simply sidestepping the issue now. It’s time McDonald’s requires all of its suppliers to un-cage hens and finally give these animals the basic freedom to spread their wings, to walk and engage in other natural behaviors,” he said, noting that McDonald’s has already switched to cage-free eggs in Europe.
Langert said McDonald’s wants to assure their customers that they demand humane treatment of animals by their suppliers. “Regarding the undercover videos, the behavior on tape is disturbing and completely unacceptable.”