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ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- In the wake of three break-ins at Wegmans Egg Farm in Wolcott, N,Y. last year, and the release last month of a video purporting to show abusive conditions at the property, two animal rights activists were arraigned last Friday, and an arrest warrant has been issued by the State Police for a third.
Wegmans has denied all allegations that conditions on its egg farm are abusive to animals.
Local press reports said that Megan Cosgrove, who once lived in Rochester but now is a resident of another state, was identified as one of three activists who paid three unauthorized visits to the chain's 750,000-hen operation in 2004. According to the state police, Cosgrove will voluntarily surrender early this week.
The other two activists, Adam Durand and Melanie Ippolito, both Rochester residents, were arraigned Friday in Wolcott Town Court. They posted cash bail of $1,000 each and were released on their own recognizance.
The three activists, who are members of a Rochester animal rights group called Compassionate Consumers, have been charged with third-degree burglary, a felony that carries a penalty of as much as seven years in jail. Although the activists said they anticipated being prosecuted, Durand noted that the seriousness of the charges surprised him -- he had thought he would only have to pay a $75 fine for trespassing, he told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
According to Durand, who videotaped the visits, he, Ippolito, and Cosgrove removed nine injured hens from the property, which is the biggest egg farm in the state. Two of the hens that were taken died shortly afterwards. In early July the group issued a 30-minute video documentation of its visits, which it titled, "Wegmans Cruelty."
Although Wegmans has declined comment on the arraignments or the arrest warrant, the grocer has discussed the break-in in statements on its Web site, http://www.wegmans.com.
"A joint investigation by the New York State Police and the Wayne County District Attorney's office was conducted," the chain said on its Web site. "We fully cooperated, and a noted Cornell University veterinarian was interviewed, as well. It was determined there was no evidence of animal abuse at our farm. The break-ins are now a matter in the hands of law enforcement authorities."
About the video footage released by Compassionate Consumers, Wegmans said, "We have serious doubts as to whether all the footage and images in this film come from our farm." The company goes on to accuse the group of "an attempt to discredit the Animal Care Certified (ACC) program. They are attacking Wegmans as a farm complying with ACC, a program of science-based animal welfare standards developed by an independent committee of animal science experts for the United Egg Producers."
"Our farm voluntarily conforms to extremely high standards," the chain continued. "The farm is routinely audited by federal and state agencies. We think it's wrong to mistreat animals. Moral reasons aside, why would we harm the very animals we rely upon for eggs?"
Pointing out that the activists want Wegmans to carry only cage-free eggs, which are more expensive and limited in supply, instead of its current selection of Wegmans eggs, two brands of organic eggs, and cage-free eggs in its Nature's Marketplace section, the company said, "Eggs fill a basic need. People rely upon them as a low-cost, nutritious food. Offering choices is the best way we know to allow our customers to exercise their personal beliefs and convictions."