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The Price of Cheap Easter Eggs? 250,000 Hens Dead From Fire at Ohio Fresh Eggs

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Once again thousands of trapped animals have died from a factory farm fire.

250,000 hens at Ohio Fresh Eggs in Harpster died when firefighters "cut power to the chicken barns and ventilation systems to keep the flames from spreading," say news reports.

Did the birds burn to death, suffocate from smoke inhalation or asphyxiate from barn fumes? Ohio Fresh Eggs says only the hens were "euthanized." Their bodies will be sent to pet and animal feed processor G.A. Wintzer & Son Co. in Wapakoneta, says Bill Schwaderer of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

Factory farms, in addition to their toxicity to workers, animals, the environment and food consumers, are fire bombs waiting to happen thanks to legions of animals packed over their own feces. Barns are so ammonified, Maine state officials required medical care after entering barns for a short period of time at a similar egg farm, Quality Egg in Turner, last year.

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At Ohio Fresh Eggs, only eight employees were tending 16 barns when the fire was reported says the Coshocton Tribune. That's one employee per 250,000 hens. (see: Agriculture Brings Jobs!) What kind of "care" can workers give animals in fume filled barns the size of football fields? Removing the dead and putting the half dead into kill carts, say those who've worked there.

Despite state operating permits which require a written emergency-response plan for such events, 225 firefighters had to battle the blaze for hours.

Accounts of animals burning to death on factory farms are as saddening as they are maddening. Witnesses at a Netley Hutterite Colony hog farm in Manitoba where 8,700 pigs perished in a 2008 fire reported hearing the animals' "ear shattering" squeals and "screams." Only six full-time employees tended the animals and bulldozers could not breach the factory farm manure pits. Fires at two other Hutterite Colonies, Vermillion Farms and Rainbow, both near Winnipeg, incinerated 8,500 pigs previously.

And speaking of repeat offenders, animals belonging to hog farmer Lynn Peters in Flora, Indiana perished in two fires, seven years apart. They were even in the same barn!

A year and a half after 5,000 trapped pigs burned to death at Holden Farms in Northfield, Minnesota, 400 sows and many piglets burned to death at its Dexter operation. Once again firemen couldn't negotiate the factory farm's confinement structure.

"Why were they keeping 6,500 pigs in one barn?" asked a blogger on Northfield.org soon afterward. "This reminds me of the Shepherd's Way fire in February, 2005 [in which hundreds of sheep were killed] where no arrests were made in the arson."

And hog farmers Jan and Nancy Pannekoek of Chilliwack, BC, have three hog farm fires to their name-and counting. Three strikes and you're out-Not.

Nor have chickens escaped factory farm infernos. 160,000 laying hens burned to death at Green Valley Poultry Farm in Abingdon, Virginia in 2007, a facility which owner Rodney Wagner admitted was a fire trap.

Ohio Fresh Eggs, with poultry operations in Croton, Marseilles, Mount Victory and Goshen Township, is truly a Teflon farm with a long rap sheet of environmental and cruelty offenses it has beaten.

Accused for years of causing water pollution, manure spills and fly infestations so bad residents have to carry fly swatters in their own homes, the company is believed linked to career violator of Iowa environmental laws, Jack DeCoster. Yet the Ohio Department of Agriculture's efforts to rescind Ohio Fresh Eggs' environmental permits for failing to disclose DeCoster's involvement with its operations were successfully appealed.

At undercover humane investigations at Ohio Fresh Eggs, hens have been documented enmeshed and dying in cage wires, in agonal breathing in trash cans and drowning in manure pools like so many oil spill victims.

The Ohio Fresh Eggs fire required the services of 225 firefighters from four counties and one million gallons of water, some from the Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area reservoir. Thank you tax payers!

Yet the company's "Easter egg donation project should still go forward," said Hinda Mitchell, Ohio Fresh Eggs spokeswoman in a goodwill gesture to future customers if not residents, tax payers, workers, the environment or animals.

Officials report no injuries from the fire nor has a cause been determined. Arson has been ruled out unless you count arson by factory farming.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist, who writes about public health

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