Sparboe Farms addresses animal mistreatment charges

by Meat&Poultry Staff
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LITCHFIELD, Minn. — Sparboe Farms announced on Nov. 19 it is creating a Sustainability Task Force charged with reviewing all current company practices in the areas of food safety, animal care and sustainability. The task force will also develop additional best practices in those areas for all of the company's production and processing facilities.

Beth Sparboe Schnell, president and owner of Sparboe Farms, said she decided to take the additional step of creating a Sustainability Task Force "so that we can make our company better." She also reassured consumers "there is absolutely no food-safety concern or any recall of any Sparboe Farms products. Sparboe Farms eggs and egg products are safe to eat."

During a press conference, Schnell addressed a Nov. 18 ABC News 20/20 segment depicting animal mistreatment at a Sparboe Farms facility and a US Food and Drug Administration warning letter regarding violations of FDA regulations.

"All of us at Sparboe Farms were shocked and deeply disturbed when we saw the video shot in our barns that depicted animal mistreatment," Schnell said. "At Sparboe Farms, we expect our employees to provide the best care possible and follow our Animal Care Code of Conduct. Acts depicted in the footage are totally unacceptable, inconsistent with our values as farmers, and violate our animal care policies and procedures."

Immediately upon learning of the video the company launched a comprehensive investigation, which identified four employees who were complicit in the disturbing activity, including at least one animal activist, she said.

"Because we have zero tolerance for animal abuse, the four have been terminated,” Schnell said. “A production manager also has been relieved of his duties. Our investigation is ongoing and any additional employees involved will be held accountable."

She said the employees in question were trained on proper bird handling methods by Sparboe's veterinarian. They signed the company's Animal Care Code of Conduct confirming they would abide by Sparboe's policies.

"We also engaged an independent auditor from Iowa State Univ. to conduct a third-party animal welfare audit, which confirmed that we are in full compliance with our animal welfare policies," Schnell said. "In fact, we have successfully passed three additional third-party audits in the last 10 days."

All of the company's bird-handling employees have been re-trained, Schnell said. She added, "we are going to increase our animal care, food safety and compliance staff."

Regarding the FDA violations, Schnell said earlier this year Sparboe responded to the FDA with corrective actions within 15 days of each inspection. In light of the recent warning letter advising the company that additional corrective steps are needed, "Our team will continue to work with the FDA to successfully address the remaining concerns immediately," Schnell said.

Schnell underscored that "at no time has there been any health risk from Sparboe Farms eggs. Not a single egg has ever tested positive for Salmonella. So the bottom line for consumers is that Sparboe Farms eggs and egg products are safe to eat."
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