The Humane Society of the United States has filed legal complaints with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleging that Hillandale Farms, a Costco egg supplier, has deceived consumers with its poor animal welfare standards and “filthy and unsanitary conditions,” resulting in food safety concerns. The complaints come weeks after the Humane Society released an undercover video apparently showing egg-laying hens living in filthy conditions, often cramped in cages and standing on top of other hens that had died. The footage also shows what appear to be piles of broken, rotting eggs lying on the floors of the egg-laying facility. The imagery draws a sharp contrast to the depictions of hens roaming freely in a pasture on the Hillandale label, the Humane Society said. “It’s unconscionable to mislead Costco consumers with false depictions of how those eggs were produced,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at the Humane Society, in a written statement. Days after the video became public, Hillandale Farms and Costco released statements disputing the allegations, saying that the undercover employee who shot the footage compromised their animal welfare standards. According to Hillandale, the employee who shot the video was the primary caretaker assigned to the barn and neglected their duties in order to misrepresent the farm’s conditions. Costco backed up the farm, saying that it had inspected Hillandale’s facilities and confirmed that the egg producer was “behaving appropriately.” Hillandale Farms was formerly owned by DeCoster Egg Farms, which was linked to nearly 2,000 Salmonella illnesses in 2010 in a massive outbreak. In April of this year, two company executives, Austin “Jack” DeCoster and his son Peter DeCoster, were sentenced to three months in jail for shipping adulterated food. In 2007, Costco pledged to transition to selling only cage-free eggs, but the company has still not set a timetable for when that change would occur. The company says it sells more than 50 million cage-free eggs each year.
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