The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) showed a video today in Des Moines it says was shot undercover at “factory egg farms.” Society C.E.O. and president Wayne Pacelle says the videos showed what he called, “appalling abuses” of chickens, including injuries from overcrowding, broken bones from rough handling by workers and high mortality rates.

“The treatment of these animals in these systems is unconscionable, it is inhumane and it should not be acceptable for a society that says it values animal welfare. And the I defy them to make that argument in any rational and reasonable way after seeing this footage,” Pacelle says. Pacelle says switching to cage-free egg production should be, in his words, “a minimum moral imperative for the industry.”

He says there are industrial cage-free systems available, and says Walmart is now using eggs supplied from cage-free chickens for its private label eggs. Pacelle says cage-free hens have two to three times more space per bird than caged hens. Pacelle says the undercover video was shot inside the barns of two Iowa egg producers, Rose Acre Farms and Rembrandt Enterprises at facilities in Winterset, Guthrie Center, Stuart and Thompson. He says they are the nation’s second and third-largest egg producers.

United Egg Producers released this statement:

United Egg Producers is conducting a full investigation stemming from undercover video shown today in Des Moines, Iowa. UEP’s investigation could include interviews with farm management and employees, review of its employee training programs, review of any photographs, videotape or other materials; and a on-site inspection of the farm.

 The UEP Certification program does not tolerate animal cruelty, intentional abuse or neglect. All employees and supervisors at UEP Certified companies are required to sign an Employee Code of Conduct. This Code of Conduct requires that “all birds will be handled with respect and dignity” and that “injured, sick or trapped birds need to be taken care of” and “proper euthanasia of sick, injured or cull birds will be conducted by a trained employee.”

Violation of this policy (either through the employee’s direct actions or the employee’s failure to notify management of observed abuse or neglect) may result in disciplinary action including termination of employment and could be cause for the farm to be de-certified by UEP.

The investigation will focus on Rose Acre Farms, one of the farms targeted by the undercover video and the only UEP Certified company mentioned. UEP Certified standards are designed to assure that egg farmers treat their hens in a humane manner. The guidelines require that all hens are handled properly, receive optimum space, nutritious food, clean water, proper lighting, and fresh air daily. If deficiencies are found by UEP’s investigation, they will be corrected or the farm could lose its UEP Certification. However, the other farm targeted by the video, Rembrandt Enterprises, is not a member of the UEP Certified program and cannot market eggs featuring the UEP Certified seal.

As the industry’s leading animal welfare certification program, and one required by most retailers and food service companies, UEP takes alleged violations of its stringent guidelines very seriously and is working to ensure full compliance.