One of the nation's biggest egg producers, which supplied eggs to all McDonald's restaurants west of the Mississippi River until undercover video aired by ABC News exposed alleged animal abuse and unsanitary conditions, has now been raided by federal immigration agents.
Agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Minnesota State Police took part in the Tuesday morning raid on the Litchfield, Minnesota facility of Sparboe Farms. Sparboe, the nation's fifth largest egg producer, has facilities in Iowa and Minnesota and is headquartered in Litchfield.
Shawn Neudauer, a spokesman for ICE, said the raid was "part of a larger criminal investigation," that eight men and two women had been arrested on "administrative immigration charges," and that two had been released. "The rest remain in custody pending review of their cases in light of the larger criminal investigation." Neudauer said no further information would be made available.
In a statement on the company website, Sparboe Farms acknowledged that eight people had been detained.
"We are aware of no issues other than immigration-related issues that would be of concern," said the statement. "There have been no food safety or quality concerns raised, and no Sparboe Farms eggs are at any risk."
Nathan Runkle of Mercy for Animals, the animal rights group that shot the undercover video from Sparboe Farms used by ABC News, said it was "no surprise that this egg factory farm, which was caught red-handed torturing chickens and then lying to its customers about it, would find itself in trouble with the law again."
"This raid at Sparboe by federal law enforcement," said Runkle, "proves once again that factory farms cannot be trusted to self-regulate and that we need stronger oversight of such operations to protect workers, as well as public health and animal welfare."
Hidden camera footage shot at Sparboe Farms locations in three states by an undercover operative for Mercy for Animals and broadcast in November 2011 on "20/20," "World News with Diane Sawyer," and "Good Morning America" documented the apparent torture and killing of hens and chicks. The video also showed rodents and flies within the facilities, and dead birds in cages, all conditions experts say are conducive to the spread of salmonella.
After ABC News showed Sparboe Farms the footage, the company fired employees responsible for the alleged animal abuse and vowed to improve conditions.
Just before the initial ABC News report aired on "Good Morning America," McDonald's announced that it would no longer get its eggs from Sparboe. Target followed suit, cancelling its contract and pulling all Sparboe eggs off its shelves. In the following days, more grocery chains around the country pulled business from Sparboe.
In addition, the Food and Drug Administration sent a company-wide warning letter to Sparboe, citing inspections the agency had performed earlier in the year. In the warning letter, the FDA expressed concern that some of the conditions found there could put the farms at risk for a salmonella outbreak. It demanded immediate action from Sparboe.
Since the ABC News investigation, Sparboe has employed outside consultants to ensure the facilities address the FDA violations and prevent future issues. Sparboe also formed a task force to ensure all employees are properly trained on humane treatment of hens in its farms. The egg producer said it was moving forward to make the company "better."