Tuesday, February 23, 2010

HSUS and Olivera Farms

In 2008, I accompanied an HSUS lawyer to Olivera Farms in Lathrop, CA.

Olivera Farms is a California egg producer. They used to run three facilities but now only have one with 750,000 hens. They are considered a "family farm".

I have been to two of Olivera's egg farms. The first was in 2004 where I helped legally pull 2,000 hens from wire cages (the farm had 160,000 hens). That farm is shuttered and dead.

The second is the one you see on your left. I did not go in the farm. We visited those small buildings you see on the right - homes.

That black thing? That's a 16.5 acre cesspool, i.e. a large open pit of chicken shit.

Have you ever smelled open, raw sewage? Maybe an outhouse at some fair or event that has completely filled up. The smell of an open manure pit is 1,000 times worse. Neighbors cannot drink their water. They cannot sit outside because of the flies and smell. On a windy day, you can smell the farm a 1/2-1 mile away.

Birds are fed antibiotic-laced feed. You cannot get away with housing 5-8 birds in a cage, 80-100,000 per building and expect healthy animals. Feeding antibiotics to livestock increase the risk of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Antibiotic resistant bacteria can be transmitted via flies, the wind, and of course, through groundwater. Which is why it's smart those neighbors stay inside and don't drink the water.

Asthma is a problem. Lung and ocular irritation is a problem.

And you know what, no one gives a damn. Consumers want cheap eggs. To get cheap eggs, you have to maximize profits. This means sticking a lot of animals into an enclosed space, animal welfare and neighbors be damned.

Now, open manure pits are not common in the egg industry. It requires trucking in a lot of water to flush out the shit into the pit. The manure sits there and is sometimes spread onto crops. Salmonella? That's how it gets onto your vegetables.

Olivera Farms has a pipe from their manure pit that runs into a major waterway. Dumping untreated sewage into this waterway is illegal. I will assume Olivera never used that pipe, until proven otherwise.

Neighbors have tried for years to get help. They have filed complaints with the county - nothing. Environmental groups have come out before and promised litigation - nothing.

You can thank HSUS for Olivera Farms facing six violations and a lawsuit on behalf of 10 neighbors.

I met those neighbors. While I ached the most for the birds, whose lives are day after day of suffering, I ached for those people too. For their asthma and sickness. For their inability to ever sell their homes. For their marginalization. Their suffering is the result of people's desire for a cheap food source.

No matter how you feel about HSUS, they are doing something good for these people - giving them a voice when everyone else demanded their silence. No more.


YesBiscuit! said...

Speaking only for myself, I'd prefer to buy eggs obtained from humanely kept hens. I'm not exclusively interested in "cheap". It's very confusing to consumers to know what eggs are from humanely kept hens. I used to think "free range" was the ticket but when I researched the issue more, I found that is not a guarantee of reasonable quality of life. I wish some producers would at least offer us the choice - buy cheap eggs or buy eggs from humanely raised hens. I don't have any idea how much a dozen of those eggs would cost. The most expensive eggs at my local supermarkets say nothing about the hens being humanely raised.

Rinalia said...

Your best bet is to visit farmer's markets, co-ops or do a google search for "pasture-raised" eggs (the hens are raised on pasture, of course, not the eggs). A farm you can visit is one that gives an iota about public perception and animal welfare.

The reality is that small farms cannot compete with the larger ones (and 99% of them are large) and that's mainly because people (generally) want cheap food.

Of course, I always encourage reduction of our reliance on meat, dairy and eggs since we don't *need* them to survive. (Well, I always encourage veganism, but I'm pragmatic enough to realize most folks aren't on the same page with me on that one!) :)

YesBiscuit! said...

Thanks for the tips!
Also thanks for this - "the hens are raised on pasture, of course, not the eggs" - HA!

Nichole said...

Thanks for this. Folks in pit bull rescue complain about HSUS and some of their positions. It's nice to know that HSUS is getting some stuff right.

Sarah said...

I work at HSUS and also volunteer with an animal rescue, and I appreciate your posting! I will def. be coming back :)