Sparboe Farms, Litchfield, is doing damage control, just before the biggest holiday baking season kicks into full gear.
Last Friday, Mercy for Animals, an animal rightist group, released an undercover video that showed a few Sparbo employees mistreating hens. As a result, McDonald's Corp., Target, Lunds and Byerly's have pulled Sparboe products from their stores.
Sparboe president Beth Sparboe Schnell said in a statement that she "was deeply saddened… because this isn't who Sparboe Farms is. Acts depicted in the footage are totally unacceptable and completely at odds with our values as egg farmers. In fact, they are in direct violation of our animal care code of conduct, which all of our employees read, sign and follow each day."
After learning about the video, Sparboe launched an internal investigation, identified four employees involved in the activity and fired them. Additional management changes have taken place and all corrective actions are being documented.
Sparboe also immediately hired an independent auditor from Iowa State University to conduct a third-party animal welfare audit. The auditor confirmed that the company is in full compliance with its animal welfare policies.
"For 57 years, the Sparboe family and hundreds of dedicated employees have worked hard every day to properly care for our chickens so they will produce well for thousands of loyal customers whom, in turn, will provide American families with safe, nutritious, affordable eggs. Our company has long been an industry leader in food safety and supports scientific research for improvements to hen well-being," said Schnell in the statement.
"That is why the video footage and media coverage is so shocking. We are proud that Sparboe Farms was the first U.S. egg producer to receive USDA Processed Verified Program certification for its science-based animal care production guidelines. We focus on continuous improvement in every area of our business because we want to truly be "best in class" for the benefit of customers and consumers."
Sparboe also hired Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz PC in Washington D.C. to assist Sparboe Farms' FDA compliance team by providing oversight and direction as Sparboe reviews food safety compliance programs.
Contact was made with Target to discussion its decision to pull Sparboe eggs from its shelves. Specific questions were not answered. However, an email response was received:
"We expect and rely on our vendors to operate facilities that meet industry standards and regulatory requirements. Once we were made aware of the unacceptable conditions in the company's egg laying facilities, Target discontinued its business relationship with Sparboe Farms and removed all Sparboe-produced products from our stores. We recognize this is a busy shopping season for our guests and we are working diligently to restock egg supplies in stores across the country. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause our guests."
Further questions also were directed at Sparboe spokespeople, but no additional information was available as of Tuesday afternoon.