Video from the Humane Society of the United States, released last month, showed live chickens trampling dead chickens in crowded cages over manure pits, and eggs covered with blood and feces. Those images are now being used to seek enforcement actions against Cal-Maine, operator of the egg production facility.
Residents of Travis and Gonzales Counties filed suit Tuesday against the Texas agencies with regulatory authority over Cal-Maine Foods. The complaint was filed in Travis County District Court to stop abuse to chicken abuse and prevent human health risks alleged by conditions at Cal-Maine’s facility at Waelder, TX.
Named in the legal action are the Texas Public Health Commissioner, the Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, and the Texas Animal Health Commission, who the plaintiffs say have failed to protect public health, public safety, and animal welfare in accordance with Texas law. The Texans bringing the lawsuit are represented by the national nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund.
ALDF was founded in 1979 with the mission of protecting the lives and advancing the interests of animals through the legal system.
The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief to halt what the plaintiffs say are abusive practices at Cal-Maine’s Texas egg production facility that violate state law and endanger public health and welfare.
Because the state agencies named in the lawsuit are charged with enforcing the Texas Health and Safety Code–including its specific mandates with regards to the confinement of birds–the lawsuit also asks the court to find, as a matter of law, that these agencies must administer the law statewide in the future–the same law the claimants say is being violated at the Cal-Maine facility.
“Texas law is clear in its provision to provide protections for birds kept in crates, coops, and cages,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “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.”
The Humane Society says there are far higher Salmonella rates in eggs from caged-chicken operations than from cage-free systems.
The plaintiffs say what Texas law requires is in stark contrast with the nightmarish conditions found at the Cal-Maine facility last month by an undercover operative working for the HSUS.
Texas law has a specific protection for poultry: Texas Health and Safety Code § 821.003 provides that persons who receive live birds for confinement must keep coops, crates or cages clean, must not overcrowd chickens confined in a cage, and must immediately remove all injured, diseased, or dead birds from coops, crates, or cages.
Cal-Maine claims to be the largest egg producer in the U.S. with sales of 778 million shell eggs last year. Several of its facilities are located in Texas. Last month, in response to the the Humane Society accusations, the company disputed the animal-welfare group’s allegations and said it was operating its facilities in full compliance with environmental, health and safety laws and regulations and permits.