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Mount Joy egg-farm cruelty case resumes

Farm goes on defense
Puts experts on stand

By Susan E. Lindt, Staff
Intelligencer Journal

Mar 03, 2007

LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. - Testimony concluded Friday in an animal-cruelty trial centering on one of the state's largest egg-production operations.

Esbenshade Farms owner and chief executive H. Glenn Esbenshade and farm manager Jay Musser face 35 counts of animal cruelty for alleged inhumane conditions at the Mount Joy farm. Each violation carries a potential fine of $50 to $750 and up to 90 days in prison.

Friday, defense attorneys Chris Patterson and Michael T. Winters asked District Judge Jayne Duncan for acquittal after prosecutors presented their last witness. Duncan denied the acquittal, and Patterson and Winters presented their case, which hinges on testimony from several witnesses who inspected some areas of the farm more than a month after the alleged violations were videotaped by undercover animal-rights activist John Brothers.

Brothers had obtained a job maintaining some of the farm's chicken houses.

University of Pennsylvania staff veterinarian Eric N. Gingerich testified he viewed the videotape, which reportedly contains images of mummified chicken carcasses in cages with live hens, heaps of dead birds and hens impaled on hooks and wires hanging from the cages. But Gingerich testified he didn't see any conditions like those on the videotape when he inspected Esbenshade Farms in January 2006, and he said he'd never seen similar conditions at any farms he ever visited.

Prosecuting attorney Dara Lovitz attempted to undermine Gingerich's testimony by asking him if he'd inspected the chicken houses where the alleged violations were videotaped.

Gingerich said he had inspected two of the three houses in question but that all the birds had been removed from one of them. Gingerich also said he had not read the citations outlining the alleged violations, so he didn't know which houses were involved in the case.

Gingerich conceded some of the dead birds in the videotape appeared to have dehydrated and starved to death after they were impaled and could not reach food and water. He said farm workers should have freed the birds before they starved, and he agreed with Lovitz that those cases constitute neglect.

Also testifying for the defense was Gregory Martin, an educator at Penn State Extension. Martin was along for the January 2006 inspection at Esbenshade Farms.

He said conditions at the farm were comparable to those at other farms of similar size he has visited. Martin said he found videotaped images of dead birds hanging from hooks above their cages "curious" because the hooks hang outside the cages.

He also questioned the large number of dead birds allegedly documented in Brothers' videotape because standard practice is to remove dead birds within 48 hours of death, if not sooner, and farm records documented dead birds were removed daily from cages.

Prosecuting attorneys Gordon Einhorn and Lovitz questioned Martin and Gingerich about funding their respective organizations receive from commercial egg-production companies to further research, education and promotion of the industry with consumers.

Both acknowledged their organizations have received industry grants, but said they did not know if Esbenshade Farms had provided any of the funding.

Neither Esbenshade nor Musser testified, but production manager Wayne Lehman took the stand. Lehman, who oversees poultry-house workers maintaining the operation's 500,000 hens, said he was unaware of any effort to clean up conditions at Esbenshade Farms before the January 2006 inspection.

Lehman emphasized profit margins are slim in egg production, so profits depend on properly caring for hens.

"I don't think you'd save any money by mistreating the birds," he said.

Brothers, who shot the videotape in December 2005, turned it over to Compassion Over Killing, a Washington, D.C.-based group advocating more humane conditions for animals on factory farms.

Compassion Over Killing asked Humane League Police Officer Johnna Seeton to view the tape. Seeton testified earlier she had pursued criminal charges against Esbenshade and Musser based on the content of Brothers' videotape.

Duncan said she expects to decide the case in mid-April, after attorneys from both sides have submitted final written comments on the case and she has reviewed two previous court decisions cited during the trial.

For more details on COK's investigation inside Esbenshade Farms, one of Pennsylvania's largest an egg factory farms, go to . A total of 70 counts of criminal animal cruelty were filed in January 2006 against the owner and the manager of the facility. The case went to court in April, during which the defense's attempt to suppress the video evidence was denied. The trial continued in August and resumed again yesterday. The case will continue this morning at 9 a.m.

By Susan E. Lint, Staff
Intelligencer Journal

Mar 02, 2007

LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. - The owner of one of the state's largest egg farms was back in court Thursday facing animal-cruelty charges in a case that left off nearly six months ago.

Charged with 35 counts each of animal cruelty are Esbenshade Farms' chief executive H. Glenn Esbenshade and farm manager Jay Musser.

Each violation carries a potential fine of $50 to $750 and up to 90 days in prison.

The case stems from a videotape reportedly made in December 2005 by undercover animal-rights activist John Brothers, who took a job maintaining chicken houses at the Mount Joy farm where an estimated 600,000 laying hens are kept.

Brothers' videotape reportedly shows dead hens impaled on wire cages, heaps of dead birds, decomposed birds left in crowded cages with live hens and other inhumane conditions.

On Thursday at District Justice Jayne F. Duncan's Elizabethtown court, defense attorneys tried to poke holes in the case brought by Humane Society police officer Johnna L. Seeton, who viewed the videotape in December 2005 after it was brought to her attention by the Washington, D.C.-based animal-rights advocacy group Compassion Over Killing.

Seeton testified the videotape shows dead birds left in cages with live hens so long the carcasses had disintegrated to nothing but feathers and bones. She said others were impaled on or trapped by cage wires that kept them out of reach of food and water.

Defense attorney Chris Patterson emphasized Seeton didn't inspect Esbenshade chicken houses herself and the knowledge she has of conditions at Esbenshade Farms is only what she gleaned from the videotape.

Patterson also laid groundwork during his cross-examination of Seeton to argue it was Brothers' job at Esbenshade Farms to remove dead and ailing birds from cages, so if Brothers' videotape shows cages containing dead birds, it's because he wasn't properly performing his job.

Seeton confirmed under cross-examination it was Brothers' job to remove dead birds but said Brothers couldn't keep up with the 170,000 birds he was charged with maintaining and that some of them had been long dead when he took the job.

Attorney Gordon Einhorn is prosecuting the case on behalf of the district attorney's office, which does not handle animal-cruelty cases.

Thursday, Einhorn called to the stand Texas poultry veterinarian Nedim Buyumichi, who said research shows chickens exhibit pain responses similar to humans and other animals.

"Chickens behave in a way that clearly indicates they're responding to pain as we do," Buyumichi testified.

In gruesome testimony, Buyumichi explained the lengthy process by which the impaled chickens he said he observed in Brothers' videotape likely died. Buyumichi said a healthy bird might have lived up to five days without access to food and water, struggling to free herself from a wire that impaled her.

He said the dead hens likely were trampled by other hens in the cages and when the healthier hens detected blood, they likely pecked at her while she was still alive.

At some point, Buyumichi said, "learned helplessness" kicks in, and the hen would stop struggling and eventually die.

Buyumichi said the decomposed birds he saw in the videotape appeared to have been dead for weeks because their carcasses appeared "stiff and paperlike" and others had decomposed to a liquid that conformed to the shape of the cage around them.

Einhorn again emphasized in his cross-examination that Buyumichi had not inspected any Esbenshade hens or facilities in person. Buyumichi agreed, but he said he is trained in examining forensic evidence related to veterinary medicine and often does so without the benefit of examining a carcass.

Testimony continues at 9 a.m. today.

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