McDonald's, Target drops egg supplier

By Steve Karnowski

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Nov. 19 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2007 file photo, a McDonald's restaurant is seen in San Jose, Calif. McDonald's Corp. said Friday, Nov. 18, 2011 it has dropped a Minnesota-based egg supplier after an animal rights group released an undercover video of operations at the egg producer's farms in three states.

Paul Sakuma, File, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

MINNEAPOLIS — McDonald's and Target dropped one of the nation's largest egg suppliers after an animal rights group released an undercover video at the egg producer's farm in three states.

McDonald's Corp. said Friday it had dropped Sparboe Farms as a supplier after a video by the group Mercy for Animals showed cases of animal cruelty at five facilities in Iowa, Minnesota and Colorado. Target Corp. soon followed, saying it would pull eggs from the Litchfield, Minn.-based company off its shelves.

"Having been made aware of the unacceptable conditions in the company's egg laying facilities, effective immediately, Target will discontinue its business relationship with Sparboe Farms," Minneapolis-based Target said in a statement late Friday.

Sparboe produces 300 million eggs a year, in regular, liquid, frozen and dried form, and ships them to restaurants and stores across the country. The company's Vincent, Iowa, plant had billed itself as the sole fresh egg supplier to every McDonald's west of the Mississippi River.

McDonald's officials say Sparboe was a "significant" supplier and that it was unclear when, or if, the company would work with the Golden Arches again. Sparboe's Iowa facility produced 2 million eggs a day, seven days a week.

That changed Friday when images shot by Mercy for Animals showed a worker swinging a bird around by its feet, hens packed into cramped cages, male chicks being tossed into plastic bags to suffocate and workers cutting off the tips of chick's beaks.

"The behavior on tape is disturbing and completely unacceptable. McDonald's wants to assure our customers that we demand humane treatment of animals by our suppliers," Bob Langert, McDonald's vice president for sustainability, said in a statement.

The nation's largest retailer — Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. — also buys Sparboe eggs and has been demanding that suppliers treat their chickens humanely for years. A Wal-Mart spokesperson could not be reached for comment Saturday.

McDonald's and other fast-food chains and grocery stores have been studying how chickens are caged and cared for in its egg farms for years. The Humane Society has persuaded several national food outlets, including Burger King, Costco Wholesale, Denny's and Wendy's/Arby's Group, to buy at least some of their eggs from producers that allow hens to roam.

McDonald's and Target's moves also followed a warning letter to Sparboe Farms dated Wednesday from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that said inspectors found "serious violations" at five Sparboe facilities of federal regulations meant to prevent salmonella. The warning said eggs from those facilities "have been prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby they may have been rendered injurious to health."

McDonald's eggs were safe because they were cooked thoroughly, and none of its operations will be affected by Sparboe, company spokeswoman Lisa McComb said Saturday. About 27 million Americans eat at McDonald's each day.

Sparboe Companies LLC said Saturday it would create a task force to review the company's food safety and animal care.

Beth Sparboe Schnell, Sparboe Farms' president and owner, said the company was "shocked and deeply disturbed" by the video and that an internal investigation identified four employees "who were complicit in this disturbing activity." They were fired this month.

She also reassured customers that there is "absolutely no food safety concern or any recall of any Sparboe Farms products. Sparboe Farms egg and egg products are safe to eat."

Sparboe also said it has made management changes, taken corrective actions sought by the FDA, and begun retraining all barn workers in proper animal care procedures.

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