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The activists brought their undercover video to Sacramento on Tuesday, and got a strong reaction.
"I don't think any person with a conscience or a soul can look at that video that we just saw and see that in any way, shape or form acceptable," said Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Woodland Hills.
An undercover activist got a job for six weeks this winter at Gemperle Enterprises, one of the state's biggest egg producers with farms in the Central Valley. It's the way 95 percent of the eggs in this country are produced -- with battery cages. Up to eight hens squeezed into a single, small cage. They can't even spread their wings, and it's how they spend their entire lives.
KGO spoke by phone with the activist who shot the video.
"When you have birds that have been there for two years, they look like absolute hell, they're missing most of their feathers, they're covered in wounds, you see a lot fewer birds per cage because so many of them had died off," said the activist.
When workers fill or empty the cages, the video shows they are very rough on the hens, often breaking their wings or legs, according to the activist. He also caught a manager not doing a good job of wringing one hen's neck. She was still alive minutes later.
He saw a worker stomping another hen.
"As he's stomping on her, she's reacting to him stomping by trying to struggle and keeps flapping her wings and there were manure pits below those individual cages that were filled up with water, so he kicks her underneath an egg belt and she drowns in the manure water," said the activist.
A spokesman for the Pacific Egg and Poultry Association would not talk to reporters at Tuesday's news conference, but he passed out a statement: "Let us state strongly that we condemn many of the graphic images and activities depicted in this film. Such images and actions are inconsistent, out of practice, and in violation of our high standards for animal welfare."
"This investigation from Mercy for Animals comes at an opportune time for California voters," said Paul Shapiro from the Humane Society of the United States.
On the November ballot, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act would stop farmers from confining any animal "in a manner that prevents such animal from lying down, standing up, and fully extending his or her limbs and turning around freely." That simple step would ban several common farming techniques -- gestation crates for pigs, veal crates and battery cages.
"It'll give the California public the chance to weigh in about where it stands vis a vis treatment, humanity, animals and our best standards and values," said state Senator Carole Migden, D-San Francisco.
The activists have written a dossier on all the problems they found at the farms with dates, times, names and photographs. They'll present it to the local prosecutor on Wednesday, along with the video. They want the workers to face animal cruelty charges.
- To read the original report from KGO in San Francisco, click here
- To read reporter Dan Noyes' blog on eggs from battery cages, click here