None of the 300 million dozen shell eggs produced annually by Sparboe Farms are being sold anymore under those Golden Arches. And Target stores began pulling Sparboe eggs from its store shelves late Friday.

Just before the ABC News Magazine 20/20 aired a segment Friday night on the alleged 13 food safety violations at Sparboe Farms, McDonald’s announced it would no longer be buying eggs from the nation’s fifth largest shell egg producer.  It was by far the fast-food chain’s largest supplier.

Target followed suit several hours later. No formal recall has been ordered.

Sparboe was depicted on ABC’s 20/20 through undercover video shot by the Mercy for Animals charity showing both animal cruelty and unsanitary practices.  Violations cited in a Nov. 16 warning letter, released on the eve of the 20/20 broadcast, cover Sparboe egg production facilities in Goodell, Humboldt, and Britt, IA; Hudson, CO, and Litchfield, MN.

In the letter, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says the violations are significant and David Acheson, the former associate FDA commissioner for food safety, told ABC the Sparboe situation is “a systemic problem.”

A large purchaser of shell eggs, who asked not to be identified, told Food Safety News that Sparboe is “just another example” of a top egg producer not taking necessary precautions at the farm level.

Enforcement of a new egg rule has been underway by FDA since July 2010, but progress has been slow and setbacks have been many. The enforcement had not even really begun when a nationwide Salmonella outbreak sickened almost 2,000 and led to the largest egg recall in U.S. history, over one-half billion shell eggs.

Conditions at the two producers found responsible, Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, fell well below egg rule standards and for a time those producers were prohibited from selling eggs.

In the last year, numerous other large shell egg producers have been found with multiple violations of the new standards.

In halting purchases from Sparboe Farms, McDonald’s released a statement saying it found the report revealed “significant and serious violations.” The fast food outlet may also have wanted to stem the use of a “Mercy for Animals” fund-raising video that ties chicken cruelty to McDonald’s Egg McMuffin, a breakfast entree.

 “McDonald’s expects all of our suppliers to meet our stringent requirements for delivering high quality food prepared in a humane and responsible manner,” the statement said.

FDA inspected Sparboe’s production units last April and May.  Mercy for Animals planted its undercover video cameras there during the summer. Much of what they filmed — dead rats, insects, and dead, decaying chickens — are violations of the egg rule’s provisions to prevent Salmonella Enteritidis.  

Employees — since fired, according to Sparboe — were shown throwing chickens and grabbing them by their necks in obvious acts of intentional cruelty.   

Rodents and flies — which lead to maggots — are prominently mentioned in the violations cited by FDA at the various Sparboe units. Among the other violations are charges that Sparboe failed to do required environmental testing for SE, did not remove vegetation and debris from outside poultry houses that often serve as “harborage for pests,” and failed to protect against cross contamination by people moving between poultry houses.

Not keeping wild birds out of poultry houses, by not maintaining bird netting or fixing louvers. was another violation cited at different locations.

Except for the number of violations and the multiple locations involved, the FDA warning letter is fairly routine. Sparboe has 15 business days to respond to the letter. FDA acknowledges that egg testing by the company at the Litchfield, MN facility turned out to be negative, even through sampling had indicated there was SE in the poultry house.

  • This is not new, but wonderful that it’s finally hitting major news outlets and getting to the masses. Great job mercy for animals!

  • Mary B DVM

    Good job McDonalds and Target!! So good to see company’s vote with their big dollars. They can make a difference quickly.

  • Mary B DVM

    Good job McDonalds and Target!! So good to see companies vote with their big dollars. They can make a difference quickly.

  • Robert

    This group mercy for animals are even worst than the people who worked at those farms. Instead of confronting the farm management they sold out to TV probably for a large sum and more than likely profit from being onesided. This group is only out for $$$$ and more than likely could not care less for the animals. By not going to the company first they caused many to loose their jobs who are probably now drawing unemployment. Bar Humbug on that bunch ….

  • Robert

    The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (S. 1176/H.R. 2966) would ban the export of American horses for slaughter and end this inhumane practice for good.
    Maybe we should give up eating Buffalo, cows, even chickens and pigs. Better yet why don’t we just give up eating that way only people would be affected for a little while then the animals could rule. People, animals were put on this earth for us to feed on. You jokers like the american horse slaughter prevention are only in for the money. People like those who passed this so called act more than likely don’t have a clue what is going on but like to see their names in print. We could abolish more than 75% of this type of legislation and all live better lives. Less money would be wasted enforcing stupid laws like this.

  • c.f.

    It is the responsibility of retailers to KNOW their suppliers and the practices they follow. With food especially this is a moral and ethical responsibility to their customers.
    [are those words still IN the dictionary?]
    McD and Target are NOT heros. They just got caught! They are trying to save themselves. They are cowards.
    More of this kind of investigation is needed to inform the public– oh so publicly— to force companies to use suppliers who are clean and ethical. It is our health and that of our children at stake here.
    ***Robert, if healthy and sanitary conditions were practiced, MORE people would have jobs.
    ***Food Safety: this is huge but the WTO article [why taking only 2nd, and not the headlines?] has so much more far reaching consequences……

  • Laturb

    @ c.f. I couldn’t agree more. Macs and Target should be regularly checking their suppliers. Sparboe is probably the tip of the iceberg, and Mercy for Animals should go after these mega corps, and expose their apparent apathy to the welfare of their customers.
    Has there been an explanation from either Macs or Target explaining why their own checks and balances were obviously not up to standard?
    Recently, I was privy to a raft of health and safety violations (nothing awful, just laziness and poor hygiene) at a McDonalds. It’s not often, in their restaurants, that you get a an unimpeded view of kitchen practices, but on this occasion I had a broad view of what was going on, and shall be emailing them with my experiences.

  • Toxins

    I always have been strongly against factory farming. Not only is it inhumane, but it spreads diseases, like salmonella and e coli easily. Salmonella, the leading cause of food-poisoning related death, can survive most common egg cooking methods including scrambled, over-easy, and sunny-side-up. Cross-contamination onto fingers, utensils, or kitchen surfaces may pose an additional threat.
    Check it out on this science based, non commercial website

  • McDonald’s made a good choice dropping that cruel egg supplier, however, they need to start doing more routine checks into the farms they are getting their supplies from. They also need to go totally cage free. In the mean time, it is up to the consumer to counter what is seen in these cruel videos. By abstaining from eggs (as well as other animal products- see for yourself), the consumer can use the power of one’s diet to lower the demand for these products. Go veg! Please see for information on adapting a more compassionate lifestyle.