From MPBN.org, Maine Publilc Broadcasting Network, Tom Porter, 8 Nov 2011.
A number of Maine egg farms, including part of the former DeCoster Egg Farm in Turner–are being taken over by a subsidiary of Minnesota-based dairy co-op Land O’Lakes. In a statement released earlier today, Land O’Lakes announced that Moark LLC, an egg distributor based in California, will be expanding its reach in the Northeast by leasing the assets of three Maine egg producers: Quality Egg of New England, which used to be part of DeCoster Egg Farm, Dorothy Egg Farm and Mountain Hollow Farms. At the end of the ten-year lease period, Moark will have the option of purchasing the facilities.
The news was welcomed by Republican Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake of Turner, where two of the egg farms are based. “I think it’s wonderful,” Timberlake says. “I think Land O’Lakes is a very reputable company and that they’ll bring stability to the area and protect the integrity of the jobs.”
Moark President Craig Willardson says in a press release that this expansion enables the company to “better serve customers in the northeastern United States.” He says it complements Moark’s existing operations, adding approximately 3.6 million egg-laying hens, and providing “greater access to a growing market for eggs.”
Willardson also says Moark intends to continue employing the majority of the current workforce at the facilities.
Five months ago the Maine House of Representatives voted to pass a measure to repeal legislation that some had said was holding up the deal: namely a 14-year-old law that allows workers at the former DeCoster Egg Farm in Turner to collectively bargain for their working conditions.
LD 1207 has not yet been enacted. Bill sponsor Dale Crafts, a Republican representative from Lisbon, says it’s been carried over to the next session. “Hopefully the Legislature will see favorable to this–I don’t know why they wouldn’t–and pass the law. I think the law is absolutely unconstitutional and I’d like to see the attorney general take a good look at it.”
Crafts says when he first proposed LD 1207 he didn’t know anything about a deal between Moark and Quality Eggs of New England.
“I knew about the law that I thought was wrong and then of course several months later I heard that they were negotiating a deal,” Crafts says. “So I tried to use that argument on top of trying to get it passed, saying ‘Well, gee, hey, here it is. It’s my whole point, if somebody’s going to come here and expand in Maine and create jobs and try to buy our businesses and try to compete with the rest of the country, then we got to have an even playing field.”
The former DeCoster Egg Farm in Turner has a checkered history. n 2009, animal rights activists sent an undercover worker to the facility, where he documented the mistreatment of hens. The case resulted in a $125,000 fine and a pledge to make improvements, including more testing for illness, regular visits from a veterinarian and worker training.
Nathan Runkle, director of the Ohio-based non-profit Mercy for Animals, which conducted that investigation, is concerned that Land O’Lakes also has a history of animal abuse. “They also confine egg-laying hens in cages where they can’t even spread they wings, they can’t walk, they can’t perch or engage in any natural behavior,” Runkle says. “So unfortunately, this move seems to be business as usual in terms of animal welfare in Maine.
In response to queries sent by emails, Land O’Lakes spokeswoman Jean Forbis says Moark “follows industry animal welfare guidelines, and will continue to do so as we take over the Maine operations.”
She also said that Moark’s agreement to enter into a long-term lease for the Maine egg facilities is not contingent on the proposed legsilation in Maine regarding the rights of workers to unionize.