PETA Criticizes Egg Farm at South Carolina Monastery
By BRENDA GOODMAN
February 21, 2007
ATLANTA, Feb. 20 — An egg farm operated by Trappist monks at a monastery in South Carolina is an “ugly stain” on an otherwise blessed community, an animal rights group said Tuesday as it released the results of an undercover investigation into egg production practices there.
“This hurts so much,” said the Right Rev. Stanislaus Gumula, the abbot of Mepkin Abbey, after he learned about the accusations made against his community, in Moncks Corner, S.C. “They’re happy chickens. They’re being treated nicely.”
A video produced by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and posted on its Web site shows rows of chickens, three or four to a cage.
Several monks, who were videotaped without their knowledge, are shown discussing their practices, including “forced molting,” which puts chickens under stress to cause them to lay more eggs. The practice was banned last year by United Egg Producers, the country’s largest trade group for commercial egg producers.
“We’re going to have to investigate, because if this is true, they aren’t following the requirements of our certification program,” said Diane E. Storey, a spokeswoman for the egg producers group. Father Gumula, who became the abbot a few months ago, called the accusations “unfactual” and said the chickens had last been molted in 2006, during a grace period the trade group allowed to comply with new regulations.
“It’s like a fast,” one of the monks explains on camera. “Like a long fast when the chickens stop laying eggs for a while because they’re not eating and they cycle them back in.”
Ms. Storey said that Mepkin Abbey was certified under her group’s animal welfare program, and that it was last inspected by the Department of Agriculture in October 2006.
Father Gumula said he would switch to a new molting technique in 2007 that did not require complete removal of food.
He also took issue with the film’s criticism of the abbey for a common practice called debeaking, in which a hot blade is used to slice the tip of the beak off a chick before it is 10 days old. He said the abbey got its hens when they were 18 weeks old, long after their beaks had been trimmed by the supplier.
PETA says that the tip of a chicken’s beak is incredibly sensitive and that birds in the wild use it to peck the ground more than 15,000 times day as they forage for food.
Animal welfare experts say beak trimming prevents chickens from tearing one other to pieces.
“I guess, in this case, beak trimming is the best of two devils,” said Inma Estevez, an associate professor in the department of animal and avian science at the University of Maryland. “I’ve seen the alternative, and, believe me, it’s much worse.”
Father Gumula said the monks raised 21,000 birds in three barns, not 38,000 as PETA asserted.
And he said he kept the birds caged because it kept them cleaner and healthier. “When they are on the floor, they are subjected to all sorts of parasites and bacteria that are around,” Father Gumula said. “They walk in their own manure. They walk in their troughs.”
He said the monks gathered 17,000 eggs daily and had been known to sing to the birds.
Animal rights advocates said that although those methods might seem quaint, the chickens were suffering.
“To put it bluntly, this is animal abuse,” said Paul Shapiro, director of the Factory Farming Campaign at the Humane Society of America, who said he had received complaints about the abbey. “People are being misled to believe these birds are receiving a higher level of care than they actually are.”
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company