Federal agents investigate at Sparboe egg farm

1/8/2013 2:30 PM
By Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Dozens of federal homeland security agents descended on Sparboe Farms in Litchfield on Tuesday as part of what authorities called a "larger criminal investigation," but details about the nature of the operation were not disclosed.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Shawn Neudauer said he could not provide details because the investigation is ongoing. There were no criminal arrests Tuesday, but 10 people were picked up on an administrative charge that ICE often uses to detain possible illegal immigrants.

Neudauer said that as of midday Tuesday, two of those arrested had been released, but the rest were still in custody and their cases were being reviewed.

Sparboe also provided few details. But in a statement, the company said that authorities had executed a warrant at two of its locations in Litchfield, and the company is working with federal officials.

Neudauer said agents with ICE's Homeland Security Investigations were involved in the operation and a Department of Homeland Security helicopter was on the scene. Minnesota state police were also there to help secure the area.

When asked if criminal charges were expected, U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Jeanne Cooney said prosecutors will have to wait to see how the investigation unfolds, but added if authorities determine that any of those arrested have prior records they could be prosecuted. She also said she could not release the nature of the investigation.

Sparboe describes itself as one of the largest shell egg producers and marketers in the United States, and sells to retail, wholesale and food service customers. It is based in Litchfield, about 65 miles west of Minneapolis.

Sparboe has been in the news before: In 2011, McDonald's and Target dropped Sparboe as their egg supplier after an animal rights group released undercover video that showed cases of animal cruelty at five of Sparboe's facilities in Iowa, Minnesota and Colorado. The video shot by Mercy for Animals showed a worker swinging a bird by its feet, hens packed into cramped cages, male chicks being tossed into plastic bags to suffocate and workers cutting off the tips of chicks' beaks.

At the time, Beth Sparboe Schnell, Sparboe Farms' president and owner, said the company was "shocked and deeply disturbed" by the video and that four employees involved in the activity were fired after an internal investigation.

Sparboe was also warned that it violated federal regulations meant to prevent salmonella. Sparboe Companies LLC said at the time that it made management changes, took corrective actions sought by the Food and Drug Administration, and was creating a task force to review the company's food safety and animal care.

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Follow Amy Forliti on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/amyforliti .


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