Search www.satyamag.com
Satya has ceased publication. This website is maintained for informational purposes only.
All contents are copyrighted.
Click here to learn about reprinting text or images that appear on this site.

back issues

 

October 2006
The Great Eggscape
The Satya Interview with Adam Durand

 

In 2004 Adam Durand and two other investigators documented the unspeakable animal cruelty taking place at New York State’s largest egg farm. Inside Wegmans’ egg farm, which supplies the Wegmans grocery store chain, investigators found hens in horrid conditions—some living pressed against long-dead cage-mates—as well as hens trapped in giant manure?pits?underneath the rows of battery cages, languishing with no access to food or water.

Adam Durand and the Rochester-based activist group, Compassionate Consumers, produced a short eye-opening documentary, Wegmans Cruelty to inform the public about the cruelty behind their eggs, and to convince Wegmans to develop better conditions, including going cage-free. Adam has since been convicted of trespassing and has served one month of a six-month jail sentence. His story has appeared in over 80 media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post and ABC’s “Primetime.” Adam’s case is currently being appealed.

Kymberlie Adams Matthews had a chance to talk with Adam Durand about the investigation and open rescue, the tumultuous trial and his determination to end battery cages.

Can you tell us about the Compassionate Consumers campaign and why you decided to focus on Wegmans? What is the main goal of the campaign?
Wegmans Food Market is one of the biggest companies here in Rochester, New York, as well as in the greater Northeast. We targeted them because they are the only grocery chain that owns and operates their own egg farm—the largest egg farm in New York State, with 750,000 layer hens. The campaign basically asks them to phase out the use of battery cages at their egg farm. But the main goal is consumer awareness. It’s a perfect opportunity for people in our area and other areas where there are Wegmans stores to see what these facilities are really like—where their food is coming from. Battery cages are terrible for the birds and this campaign forces customers to face it. We have also made it pretty clear that the right thing for Wegmans to do is to stop using battery cages.

Isn’t Wegmans considered by many to be a sort of gourmet grocery?
Yeah, they are known for being a grocery store above the rest. They have a large array of organic products and a vegan label—“V”—on their brand of vegan food. They are also recognized for their excellent customer service and their integrity as a corporation. They are even known for being a family business—CEO Danny Wegman is a very public figure and actually quite beloved here in Rochester.

It’s difficult for the average person, whose only interaction with eggs is in the supermarket and on their plates, to understand the conditions on an egg farm. Can you describe some of the things you saw?
The hardest thing about being in the facility is seeing all of the animals, yet being completely unable to comprehend their numbers. I mean, imagine cage after cage after cage and each one packed with birds. The confinement was the hardest thing for us to see. We simply couldn’t grasp the amount of suffering going on right in front of us. It just makes you think…this facility is only an hour away from where I live, how many are like this in the world?

As far as individual cases, every once in a while your eyes would catch an individual bird missing a lot of feathers, or whose beak is malformed or damaged. They would just stand out. In the video we tried to convey that by singling out individual birds so that it wasn’t just a blur of chickens. We wanted people to see what each of these animals faced.

You were only able to take out a few of the very sick birds. What was it like having to leave so many behind?
You know, there is not a number you could take that could make you feel good. There is always more you are leaving behind.

I can only imagine the feeling of helplessness. When you originally investigated the Wegmans facility, their eggs were sold with the “Animal Care Certified” label on them. Can you talk about any “humane” conditions you witnessed and the usefulness of such labels?
Well, the Animal Care Certified label has since become the United Egg Producers Certified label. The label pretty much means nothing. The conditions are set by the industry. You cannot call them humane in any regard because of the intense confinement that is written right into the standards—each hen has less than 70 square inches of space. They live their entire lives crammed into a space less than a sheet of typing paper. It is basically a cover for the industry to say they have standards they follow. Maybe those standards are a step above what customary practices were a few years ago when the birds only got 52 inches, but I really don’t see much of a difference.

Do you think these labels deceive the public?
I am sure the public wants to feel good about what they eat, so they either intentionally mislead themselves or the labels are there to allow them to. To be honest, I really don’t think people dwell too much on labels. I wish the customers cared more. I mean, I know people who were buying Animal Care Certified eggs thinking they were humane, but they certainly weren’t looking into the situation and seeing the number of people and organizations at work condemning the label. Wegmans just leaves that label off their carton, they feel it doesn’t mean anything to customers.

Yet, as you mentioned, part of the campaign is to get Wegmans to change their egg facility to cage-free. Can you talk about the focus being on cage-free rather than go vegan? Is cage-free really such a better deal for the hens?
Well, it is certainly easier for the average consumer to grasp humane products over veganism. I think going cage-free is a way of getting the message out there and forcing customers to really make a decision about what they support. Hopefully, the more people know, the more likely they will be to give up these products completely. Until then though, I feel it is very important to give animals who are suffering as much relief as we can. Really, I believe these welfare steps, like cage-free, are not just a middle ground; they are a solution to a number of the most serious problems animals face right now.

What kind of response has the film and campaign received so far, from both the public and from Wegmans?
The documentary is the backbone of the campaign. It’s what educates most people and supports the claims we make about one company’s process of producing cheap, low-cost food. We have gotten a bunch of feedback from people who were floored by what they saw and immediately changed their diets—boycotting battery caged eggs to boycotting animal products altogether. We have also gotten negative responses from people who think the footage is a hoax or that we’re making up the claims in our video. But on the contrary, we very purposely used only Wegmans footage and stuck to the facts. But it is still hard in a town that is so loved by and in love with Wegmans to come out and criticize them.

In this campaign we have been really careful to only criticize the egg aspect of Wegmans, we are not out to demonize the company or anybody who works there. We are just saying that the company needs to look at what they are doing and customers need to look at what they are supporting.

Can you talk about the charges brought against you?
We released the video and the very next week a police investigator tried to talk to us. Then undercover investigators came to one of our talks and recorded it, trying to build evidence against us. We were arrested about a month after we released the film. The original charges were burglary and trespassing. We had to then stand before the Grand Jury, where they indicted me on three counts of burglary, three counts of petty larceny, three counts of trespassing and one count of criminal mischief, which is basically vandalism. The burglary charge was for entering the facility to deprive Wegmans of property—the hens we openly rescued. That was the stiff indictment; each burglary count could carry up to seven years of prison. I probably got the most counts because when in front of the Grand Jury, I basically testified against myself—not a very good idea. But it was what my attorney recommended at the time.

So…Do you have a new attorney?
[Laughter.] Yeah, I do.

You actually went to trial, right?
Yes. Needless to say, it was very interesting. We basically tried to turn the tables a little bit and show the video footage and photographs. We wanted to get across the conditions the hens were in. That we were doing it for humanitarian reasons—not to be vindictive or out for personal gain. I was acquitted on the burglary and the larceny charges, and the criminal mischief charge was dropped. I was only convicted of trespassing, a misdemeanor. Although I did not have a prior criminal record and the probation department recommended no jail, the judge decided to sentence me to the exact sentence Wegmans recommended—six months in jail and one year probation. He also added a $1,500 fine and 100 hours of community service.

I read some of the court proceedings and the judge actually called Wegmans the victim and said you were simply profiting from what happened. Is that why your punishment was so severe? What was up with that?
The idea that I am profiting off of this is crazy. I produced the video off my credit card and haven’t made a cent off of anything—I’m not even planning on breaking even. And then the legal defense cost is a pretty penny. The notion that the judge thought I was signing million-dollar book deals or the rights to the big screen is a little off base. To top it all off, the judge didn’t think I owned up to my crimes—even though I admitted to everything and testified against myself. It was really frustrating. [Laughter.] In the end he actually had to re-sentence me because in New York it is illegal to give someone with a misdemeanor offence the maximum jail time and probation. But even so, I had to stay in jail until I was re-sentenced. So I have already spent 35 days in jail. I am facing 85 more [if the sentence is not reversed on appeal].

That seems so unfair. How was jail?
It wasn’t bad, but it was jail. The worst part for me was not being able to be with my loved ones. I knew I could get through it by focusing on the [positive] and being the same kind of person in jail as I was on the outside. I got along well with the other inmates. It was a medium-security jail, not a maximum-security prison—it wasn’t as stark as they portray on TV. I do have to say it was still unlike anything I had experienced before.

What can people do to help out?
If you are living in an area with a Wegmans, consider joining or organizing demonstrations, they are really good way to reach out to customers. We also have a legal defense fund set up. You can visit our website and click on the donate button.

For more information and to download the documentary Wegmans Cruelty for free, visit www.wegmanscruelty.com.

 


© STEALTH TECHNOLOGIES INC.