An international animal-rights organization on Wednesday accused a supplier of eggs for Malvern-based Eggland's Best of cruelty and neglect of its hens. The company disputed the allegations.
Mercy for Animals released undercover photos and videos on Wednesday from two Briarwood Farms locations in Washington State that showed workers mishandling birds, chickens kept in cramped and filthy cages, and sick and dead hens.
"To the best of our knowledge . . . those flocks were never supplying Eggland's Best eggs," Bart Slaugh, the company's director of quality assurance, said. Still, he said, Eggland's Best, which does not own farms, has contacted the facility.
Briarwood Farms, which also contracts with other egg companies, has launched its own investigation, hiring an animal-care audit company to conduct a review with the assistance of Oregon State University and calling in a state poultry veterinarian, Slaugh said.
Jaime Berger, a spokeswoman for Mercy for Animals, said the group was "certain" the Briarwood Farms facilities supply eggs to Eggland's Best.
Matt Rice, the organization's director of investigations, said the facilities were picked at random. He said that the investigation was done from Feb. 29 to May 12 and that an undercover worker informed management of the conditions, but that nothing was done.
Slaugh said Eggland's Best had contracted with Briarwood Farms for more than 20 years. He called the videos "appalling" and "inconsistent" with the way Briarwood runs its operations.
Mercy for Animals wants Eggland's Best - one of the leading producers of eggs - to agree to use only 100 percent cage-free suppliers.
"They have not committed to going 100 percent cage-free," Rice said. "They can set the standards for the products they sell and refuse to work with companies that torture animals, and that is what we are asking them to do."
Slaugh said Eggland's does not feel the need to make a statement because its suppliers are already making the change, with a 2025 target for full compliance.
"We are ahead of the game as far as cage-free goes," he said. Currently, 20 percent of the operations contracted by Eggland's Best have cage-free facilities, with about 10 percent of those organic. Other companies are at about 10 percent, he said.
"It is unprofessional and unfair to represent us as the slackers when in actuality we are the leader," he said.
Slaugh questioned the motive for releasing the information now, when a proposal in Massachusetts would prevent the sale of eggs from hens kept in small cages.
"If they were generally concerned about only the welfare of the hens, that would have happened earlier," he said.
Rice said the Massachusetts measure was not a factor in the video's release.