Recognizing Public Health Risks, Blumenthal Urges Costco to Cease Sales of Eggs from Facilities with Caged Hens

Letter follows undercover investigation exposing Costco’s main egg supplier confines its hens in dark, dirty cages

(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, sent a letter to Costco Wholesale Corporation CEO Craig Jelinek, urging him to cease all sales of eggs from facilities where hens are caged in order to reaffirm the company’s commitment to sell only cage-free eggs.

Following a recent investigation exposing Costco’s main egg supplier to be a facility that raises and keeps hens in tight, dank cages, Blumenthal cited the severe public health and safety risks, as well as increased risks of Salmonella outbreaks, Costco is posing to its customers by promoting these inhumane and unhealthy practices. Blumenthal also notes that this egg supplier was “at the center of a major multistate outbreak of Salmonella in 2010, so Costco should have been particularly on guard in its audits of their facilities."

Blumenthal wrote, “Captured in video are birds locked in cages with the corpses of other birds, confined so tightly they are unable to spread their wings. As you know, unsanitary conditions and overcrowding at poultry farms may increase the likelihood of Salmonella and the virulence of bird flu. Your company has made statements for the last eight years about your intention to sell only cage-free eggs. This video belies Costco’s claims to consumers about its supposed public health priorities and humane treatment of animals.”

Costco’s Animal Welfare Audit Expectations guide says that the company subscribes to the 'Five Freedoms' of animal welfare, which include freedom from discomfort and freedom to exhibit natural behaviors—neither of which comport with your sale of eggs from caged hens. The revelations cast doubt on Costco’s consumer credibility – and its commitment to public health priorities and humane animal policies. I urge you to recommit to this goal by providing a timeline with deadlines describing how and when Costco will be cage-free.”

Blumenthal requested Jelinek respond by June 24, 2015 detailing the plans as to how the company will correct for these actions.

Full text of the letter is below and can be viewed here:

Dear Mr. Jelinek,

As the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, I am contacting you regarding the troubling findings of an undercover investigation recently conducted by the Humane Society of the United States into Hillandale Farms, a major supplier of eggs to your company. As you know, that investigation revealed that a Costco egg supplier confines its hens in tight, dank cages – and that Costco nonetheless sells those eggs in cartons emblazoned with an image of free-roaming hens in an idyllic-looking pasture and the phrase “Farm Fresh.”

Your supplier’s practices and claims are deceptive and outrageous.

Captured in video are birds locked in cages with the corpses of other birds, confined so tightly they are unable to spread their wings. As you know, unsanitary conditions and overcrowding at poultry farms may increase the likelihood of Salmonella and the virulence of bird flu.

This supplier was at the center of a major multistate outbreak of Salmonella in 2010, so Costco should have been particularly on guard in its audits of their facilities. Your company has made statements for the last eight years about your intention to sell only cage-free eggs. This video belies Costco’s claims to consumers about its supposed public health priorities and humane treatment of animals. Costco’s Animal Welfare Audit Expectations guide says that the company subscribes to the “Five Freedoms” of animal welfare, which include freedom from discomfort and freedom to exhibit natural behaviors—neither of which comport with your sale of eggs from caged hens.

The revelations cast doubt on Costco’s consumer credibility – and its commitment to public health priorities and humane animal policies. I urge you to recommit to this goal by providing a timeline with deadlines describing how and when Costco will be cage-free. As you know, several other companies have made this commitment and have provided deadlines as to when they plan to reach this goal.

I am concerned your company is supporting conditions that pose a serious public health risk. Please respond in writing by June 24, 2015 regarding corrective measures you plan to take regarding the allegations made about your supplier and the labeling of the product in your stores.

Sincerely,

Richard Blumenthal
United States Senate

Press Contact

Josh Zembik (DC) – 202-224-6452
Josh_Zembik@Blumenthal.senate.gov
Elizabeth Benton (CT) – 860-729-3589
Elizabeth_Benton@blumenthal.senate.gov