Hillandale Farms Responds to Hidden Camera Footage Showing Decomposing Chickens at Pennsylvania Egg Farm

Humane Society US went undercover at one of the country's largest egg suppliers.

ByABC News
June 10, 2015, 9:07 PM

— -- Hidden camera video footage from the Humane Society of the United States shows what the organization is calling deplorable conditions inside chicken coops owned by Hillandale Farms, one of the largest egg producers in the country, from dead, decomposing birds in cramped cages to piles of broken eggs on the floor.

Now Hillandale, which supplies eggs to Costco Wholesale and other big retailers, is telling ABC News’ “Nightline” what was captured in the video is not the norm for them and that their facilities are clean and continue to be improved. Hillandale also maintains their facilities meet all state and federal guidelines.

The hidden camera footage was shot by an undercover investigator from the Humane Society of the United States who worked as a day laborer at Hillandale for three weeks from mid-April to early May. His mission was to gain access to one of the company’s facilities near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and secretly film the conditions inside the chicken coops.

The Humane Society video shows chickens living in tight quarters with little room to move, cages draped in long trails of dust, and dead chickens being scraped up. Below is an excerpt of some of their footage:

An investigator for the Humane Society of the United States went undercover at Hillandale egg facility in Pennslyvania.
An investigator for the Humane Society of the United States went undercover at Hillandale egg facility in Pennslyvania.

Humane Society spokesman Wayne Pacelle said the cages wouldn’t look so dirty if Hillandale was cleaning them every day.

“The birds are mummified. That means the birds had to have been here for a while,” he said, after reviewing the video footage. “Warning bells go off for me, and they should go off for the FDA. They should be going off for Costco. They should be going off for the American consumer.”

Hillandale has a history. It was partly responsible for the biggest egg recall ever in the US. In 2010, a salmonella outbreak sickened an estimated 1,900 people. Federal food safety officials traced the outbreak back to several big egg farms, including a Hillandale facility in Iowa.

Congress held hearings on the outbreak. Duane Mangskau, a production representative of Hillandale at the time, maintained that the company had a long history of safety. But Orland Bethel, then the president of Hillandale Farms, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions. His son Gary Bethel is now the president of the company.

After the Humane Society shared its footage with “Nightline,” we showed it to Hillandale. A week later, the company agreed to give us a tour of the same facility where the Humane Society investigator said he had shot the hidden camera footage.

The place appeared to have been cleaned up since the footage was shot. The dust and feathers were mostly gone. There were no signs of dead animals or piles of broken eggs on the floor.

Jeff Martin, a Hillandale manager at the facility, said he was “disturbed” when he saw the footage.

“My first reaction was I was disturbed because it doesn’t represent what we are,” Martin said. “I walk these houses. I walk these facilities week in and week out and I don’t see that. I don’t see what was in that video, and there were parts of the video that saddened me. There were parts of the video that made me angry, and so we launched a full-scale investigation as to what happened.”

The chicken coop is about the size of a football field and holds roughly 120,000 hens, bunched roughly six hens to a cage.