Million hens killed in Ohio–– twister hits like forced molt
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2000
COLUMBUS, Ohio––An estimated
one million battery-caged laying hens died
slowly from thirst, exposure, and starvation
or were reportedly crushed by bulldozers on
October 2 and 3 after two weeks of suffering,
following a September 20 tornado which
destroyed the water-and-feed systems serving
twelve 85,000-hen barns at the Buckeye Egg
Farm complex in Croton, Ohio.
The Croton complex is the biggest
of four owned by Buckeye, the fourth largest
egg producer in the U.S., formerly known as
Ohio Department of Agriculture
spokesperson Mark Anthony told Mike
Lafferty of the Columbus Dispatch o n
September 21 that the trapped hens would
have to be killed and buried, burned, or rendered
as promptly as possible.
“And the process has to be done
humanely, too,” Anthony insisted. “These
chickens are not going to die of thirst.”
But finding any humane way to kill
the hens proved impossible.
Humane Society of the U.S. regional
representative Sandy Rowlands, of
Bowling Green, Ohio, “recommended tenting
the broken barns and pumping in gas, as
opposed to throwing the birds into a truck and
gassing them there,” posted Protect Our
Earth’s Treasures president Ritchie Laymon
on September 24 to Internet newsgroups via
Franklin Wade of United Poultry Concerns.
“Terminex [an exterminating company] came
to try the tent killing, and it was a total flop.
The barns are the size of airplane hangars.
Terminex just couldn’t manage such a huge
undertaking. That means the birds will just
starve in their cages, because the truck/gas
method is too slow to get them all.”
Buckeye chief financial officer
Bruce Collen told Jane Schmucker of the
Toledo Blade that although a 16-member
crew normally culls 30,000 hens per day,
structural damage to the barn roofs and to
walkways over the deep manure pits beneath
the cages prevented any hen removals before
About 400,000 hens were pulled
from their cages, killed, and sent for rendering
during the next week. Joining the paid
Buckeye staff in the work were about 50 volunteers
from nearby Mennonite villages and
countless animal rescuers who came and
went. The greatest number of hens recovered
alive apparently went to the Ooh-Mah-Nee
Sanctuary in Hunker, Pennsylvania, the first
to gain permission from Buckeye to take any.
Ooh-Mah-Nee acknowledged receiving
1,200 but according to some media reports
received as many as 2,000.
Reportedly taking about 1,000 was
Farm Sanctuary of Watkins Glen, New York.
United Poultry Concerns founder Karen Davis,
of Machipongo, Virginia, reportedly took 25.
Allen Geise of the Willows Farm Sanctuary
and Shannon Lentz of Grateful Acres drove
together from Michigan to claim 130.
“We had our own disaster when
loading the birds into the first truck [to OohMah-Nee],”
Laymon said. “It was cold and
rainy, and we left the heat on. The birds, who
were wet and cold themselves, piled into one
corner of the truck, and the hens on the lowest
level suffocated. We had to pull the living
birds off the dead birds, and discard the dead.
It was devastating. What were we, their saviors,
or tormenters? We then turned on the air
conditioning, which was completely counterintuitive,
but it worked. These poor creatures,
who were at first terrified by the straw bedding
we laid out, soon started nesting and clucking.
From factory robots, they turned into ‘The
Girls,’ and we fell in love with them.”
Buckeye spokesperson Collen on
September 25 claimed, “These birds are in
their last chapter.”
Buckeye then halted the rescue effort
on September 28, claiming that American
Humane Association representative Jack
Sparks had “determined that the work being
performed to rescue the hens had become
physically and emotionally dangerous.”
Responded Sparks, “It’s unfortunate
that our role has been characterized in this
way.” Sparks told Associated Press that he
had merely recommended to Buckeye that the
rescuers and Buckeye staff should be issued
safety equipment such as hard hats, so that
they could reach more hens without risk of
injury to themselves.
Some rescuers suspected Buckeye
was just trying to run them off before the bulldozers
arrived to clear away the barn rubble––and
bury alive the last surviving hens.
The tornado was only the most
recent of many controversial incidents associated
with Buckeye. Owner Anton Pohlmann,
60, and his son Marcus developed the
Buckeye egg factories beginning in 1982, parallel
to operations in Lower Saxony,
Germany. They were cited for their first water
quality violations just a year later.
Anton Pohlmann had already
become the top egg producer in Europe,
despite a string of convictions between 1971
and 1987 for causing pollution and violating
the German juvenile worker protection law.
But the German-based Pohlmann
empire began to collapse in 1992, recounted
Kelly Lecker of the Toledo Blade in a
November 1999 investigative series, when
Pohlmann “used an illegal drug to treat salmonella
in his chickens because the commonly
used drug was too expensive, court records
state. In 1994 he sprayed nicotine sulfate on
the chickens because they had mites, which
caused one worker to become gravely ill and
endangered 940,000 young hens. Court documents
state that Pohlmann removed the warning
label that said the substance was a strong
poison. The court records state that when the
worker went to the hospital, Marcus
Pohlmann did not at first tell doctors what had
happened. Records state that the worker could
have died from damage to the diaphragm,
heart failure, or aspiration.”
In addition, Anton Pohlmann was in
September 1994 convicted of cruelly killing
60,000 hens who had salmonella, by cutting
off their water, food, and air conditioning.
Pohlmann was briefly jailed, fined
$2 million, placed on probation for two years,
and barred for life from participating in any
German animal-related enterprise.
This encouraged Pohlmann to emigrate
to the U.S. and expand his American
holdings. Buckeye now has annual sales
exceeding $100 million, and Pohlmann has
amassed a personal fortune of more than $80
million, but the company was sued by the
Ohio Environmental Protection Agency in
December 1999 for allegedly failing to comply
with clean-up orders and failing to pay civil
penalties totaling $750,000.
Buckeye also incurred $425,000 in
civil penalties from the U.S. Occupational
Safety and Health Adminstration, while still
known as AgriGeneral, for allegedly hiring
illegal aliens and underaged workers, housing
workers in substandard conditions, and
improperly withholding wages from workers.
The company changed names in
1997 after the TV magazine expose series
Dateline aired undercover footage of employees
packaging “expired” eggs together with
fresh, at alleged instruction from management.
As disturbing as the suffering inflicted
on the Buckeye hens as result of the tornado
was to those who observed it, the conditions
for the hens were almost normal.
By the time they are killed, more
than 90% of the 447 million laying hens raised
in the U.S. this year will have endured a forced
molt. This means they will be deprived of
food and get only limited water for 10 days to
That includes the 15 million laying
hens raised by Buckeye, among them the six
million at the Croton site whose barns escaped
The hens will be starved after their
egg production falls off at the end of their first
laying cycle. Eventually they will drop their
feathers, refeather, and begin a second egglaying
cycle, just as if they had endured a
harsh winter and then responded to spring.
By the end of the hens’ second egglaying
cycle, their bodies will be so depleted
of calcium and other essential minerals that
according to poultry industry surveys, about
one hen in six or seven will suffer broken
bones en route to slaughter, and one in three
dozen will not survive the trip.
Hens subjected to forced molting are
especially vulnerable to salmonella and other
infections which may pass to humans with
eggs or meat. Egg producers often try to prevent
the infections by dosing whole flocks
with antibiotics. But this practice is believed
to have stimulated the recent rapid evolution of
antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including strains
of campylobacter and salmonella that sicken
thousands of humans per year.
Citing the human health risk,
McDonald’s Restaurants on August 22 ordered
its 27 egg suppliers to stop inducing forced
molts by the end of the first quarter of 2001.
McDonald’s also ordered a gradual
phase-out of debeaking, done to keep chickens
kept in close confinement from injuring each
other, and further ordered that egg producers
by the end of 2001 increase the floor space
allocated per hen in caging from the present
average of about 50 square inches to 72 square
inches––still less than the size of a standard
sheet of typing paper.
Purchasing about 1.5 billion eggs per
year, or roughly between 2% and 3% of all
U.S. egg production, McDonald’s won from
PETA a promised year-long suspension of its “Unhappy
Meals” protest campaign.
“Unhappy Meals” amplified a June 1997 ruling
by Justice Roger Bell of the British High Court in
the so-called “McLibel” case brought against London
Greenpeace protesters David Morris, then 43, and
Helen Steel, then 31, that McDonald’s Restaurants are
“culpably responsible” for cruelty toward factoryfarmed
poultry and hogs.
“Unhappy Meals” asked McDonald’s to
enforce the provisions of McDonald’s and the Humane
Treatment of Animals, a code of ethics for suppliers
adopted in February 1994 under pressure from Simon
Billenness of the Franklin Research and Development
Corporation and the late Henry Spira, founder of
Animal Rights International and the Coalition for NonViolent
Food. Spira died in September 1998.
The McDonald’s code asks suppliers to adhere
to the 1991 American Meat Institute guidelines drafted
by livestock handling consultant Temple Grandin, of
Colorado State University. The AMI guidelines are
much tougher than any present provisions of law.
Michaels seeks more
Susan Michaels, cofounder of the Pasado’s
Safe Haven sanctuary in Sultan, Washington, on
October 2 marked World Day for Farm Animals by asking
Washington-based egg producers to adopt a somewhat
stricter code of ethics which would incorporate the
McDonald’s standards and also forbid debeaking.
Michaels, 43, is an ex-TV reporter and talk
show host who in 1978 was shocked into vegetarianism
by what she saw during a broadcast about an Illinois
slaughterhouse. Michaels was instrumental in obtaining
Pasado’s Law, the Washington felony anti-cruelty
statute, named for a donkey who was tortured to death
by intruders in 1992 at the Kelsey Creek Farm petting
zoo in Bellevue. She was deeply disappointed that the
lawmakers exempted farm animals from coverage.
Michaels and husband Mark Steinway founded
Pasado’s Safe Haven in 1998 to help farm animals.
They became especially active on behalf of chickens
after rescuing about 150 hens in February 1999 from a
flock allegedly left to starve by egg farmer Keith E.
Amberson, 51, of Lake Stevens, Washington––and
then rescued another 1,500 from the Amberson farm in
March 2000, working with numerous other groups
including the Pigs Peace sanctuary, the Humane
Farming Association, and Farm Sanctuary. More than
1,000 hens were reportedly found dead at the Amberson
farm in deep filth, but Amberson was charged with just
one count of misdemeanor second-degree cruelty. His
trial is set for November 13.
Michaels told ANIMAL PEOPLE that she
offered to take up to 1,000 of the Buckeye hens, but that
safe transportation for them could not be arranged.
Meanwhile, she persuaded the Sultan High
School animal sciences program to make permanent an
agreement she secured last spring––over the militant
opposition of many locals––that chickens raised as part
of class projects will be brought to Pasado’s Safe Haven
instead of being killed.
The American Humane Association on
September 20, just before the tornado hit Buckeye,
unveiled a “Free Farmed Certificate Program” for poultry,
dairy, and cattle producers.
“I’ve spent the last three years of my life making
this a reality,” AHA Washington D.C. office director
Adele Douglass told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
Douglass undertook the Free Farmed
Certificate Program at the request of Henry Spira, who
was a close friend for many years, and has been
appointed executive director of Farm Animal Services
Inc., a new “stand-alone nonprofit organization” formed
by the AHA to run the program.
“The Free Farmed Certificate Program,”
according to the AHA announcement, “is a voluntary,
user-fee-based service available to producers, processors,
and haulers of animals raised for food,” intended
“to provide independent verification that the care and
handling of livestock and poultry on enrolled farms
meets the AHA animal welfare standards.”
Douglass drafted the standards, covering cattle,
dairy cows, chickens, and laying hens, in collaboration
with a six-member scientific committee.
The USDA “is to verify FAS’ inspection
process” by visiting 25% of the Free Farmed Certificate
Program participants, the AHA said.
Among the first Free Farmed Certificate
Program participants are the Clover-Stornetta Farms
dairy company of northern California; Egg Innovations,
of Ozaukee County, Wisconsin, a free-range producer
of about 92 million eggs per year, whose hens are not
subjected to forced molts; and several cattle ranches
that feed into one Montana slaughterhouse.
Farm Animal Services is modeled after
Freedom Food Ltd., begun by the Royal SPCA of Great
Britain in 1993 and formally introduced in 1994.
Despite a shaky start, Freedom Food now certifies
4,000 farms, 120 livestock haulers, 47 slaughterhouses,
and 6,000 retail outlets, whose collective market
share includes the sale of 70 million eggs per month.
But Freedom Food is not universally seen as
significantly advancing farm animal welfare. From
inception it has been bitterly criticized for allowing participants
to debeak hens, dock pigs’ tails, and keep
sows in farrowing crates.
RSPCA farm animal division chief Martin
Potter, DVM, told the London Observer in June 1995
that these practices were allowed because forbidding
them might cause other animal welfare problems,
including cannibalism among hens, tail-biting among
pigs, and the crushing of piglets when sows roll over.
The Freedom Food standards are, however,
significantly stronger than the AHA welfare standards.
For instance, Freedom Food farmers were not
allowed to keep hens in battery cages even before the
European Parliament in June 1999 agreed under British
pressure to phase out battery caging throughout the
European Union by 2012.
Appeal to consumers
Associated Press farm writer Philip Brasher
told the world on September 19, before the AHA standards
were officially announced, that they “are so stringent
that few farmers initially can meet them.”
Specified Brasher, “To qualify for the Free
Farmed seal, farms would have to eliminate cages for
laying hens and stop using forced molting. Dairy cattle
would have to have access to pastures.”
The AHA would like to see all this, but the
standards are not quite that strong yet.
Douglass wrote them, she explained, with the
intent that enough farmers should be able to meet them
right now to give consumers a choice at their supermarket
between bad conditions and better.
“We have to realize that anything we do to
help farm animals will have to be done by consumer
pressure,” Douglass told ANIMAL PEOPLE,
“because with agribusiness owning Capitol Hill, it isn’t
going to get done by legislation.”
What the AHA standards actually say about
pasturing dairy cattle is that, “All cattle, regardless of
location, should have access to turn-out lots for four
hours per day, weather permitting.”
Farmers are not required to furnish grazing,
either. The AHA standards state that, “When pasture
quality is poor, nutritional maintenance through feeding
of quality forage and concentrate is appropriate.”
If strictly followed, the AHA standards might
forbid veal crating. Calves may be housed singly, but
must be able to turn around, see and hear other calves,
and spend four hours a day in either natural daylight or
The AHA standards also forbid almost all routine
use of electroshock to move cattle.
However, laying hens may be caged, at half
the density allowed by McDonald’s: three to a cage now
The hardest part of drafting the standards,
Douglass said, was finding an egg producer who does
not put hens through forced molts.
At that, the written AHA standard, in allowing
leeway for veterinary care, almost had a loophole:
F W 2 : Hens must have free access to nutri –
tious food each day, except when required by the
The loophole is that forced molts are usually
done under supervision of an egg company vet––not for
the hens’ own sake, but because starved hens may
develop infections which can be passed to people.
After ANIMAL PEOPLE pointed out the
loophole in a draft copy of the standards, Douglass
rushed to restore a lost line to the next passage, to reinforce
FW3: Producers must have a written record
of the nutrient content of the feed and make it available
to the Free Farmed Assessor. Withdrawal of food to
induce a molt is not permitted.
Serving on the AHA Standards Scientific
Committee were Pennsylvania State University dairy
expert Brenda Coe; Pamela Hullinger, DVM, of the
California Dept. of Food and Agriculture Animal Health
Branch; University of California at Davis poultry expert
Joy Mench.; livestock behavior expert Julie MorrowTesch.;
Washington State University poultry and hog
expert Ruth Newberry; and U.C. Davis veal expert