Department of Agriculture says eggs safe to eat, chickens health - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Department of Agriculture says eggs safe to eat, chickens healthy after Lebanon farm fire

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A group of animal activists demanded to inspect the coop where 80,000 chickens died in a fire. (WFSB photo) A group of animal activists demanded to inspect the coop where 80,000 chickens died in a fire. (WFSB photo)
A fire erupted at the KofKoff Egg Farm in Lebanon on Tuesday. (iWitness photo) A fire erupted at the KofKoff Egg Farm in Lebanon on Tuesday. (iWitness photo)

While animal rights activists protested and demanded access to an area of a chicken coop where thousands of birds perished in a fire earlier this week, state officials said the eggs at the Lebanon farm were safe to eat and the animals were healthy on Friday. 

The massive coop fire killed 80,000 egg-laying hens at the Kofkoff egg farm on Mack Road on Tuesday evening.

"We're hoping we can get in to look through the rubble and the damage to see if there are any survivors and investigate whether the birds in neighboring sheds are suffering from smoke inhalation which can be pretty common in these fires," said activist Zach Groff.

The farm is home to 1.5 million chickens.

It took 25 fire departments to extinguish the immense fire. Investigators determined that the cause of the fire was an overheated motor.

Ed Hoffman, director of operations at Hillandale Farms Conn, LLC, the owner of the KofKoff farm, released a statement on Friday.

“It's heartbreaking for any farmer to experience this kind of loss, and we're so thankful our employees were unharmed," Hoffman said. "Our attention and efforts are fully focused on the health of our hens."

The KofKoff farm is one of the largest egg producers in New England.

On Friday morning, a coalition of animal liberation activists including the National Lawyers’ Guild Animal Rights Activism Committee, Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) and Collectively Free (CF) demanded to inspect the damage from a fire. 

This animal protection groups showed up at the entrance to the farm and wanted access to the Kofkoff chicken coop to investigate the health of the more than 1 million remaining birds.

"There are birds routinely left dying and designated as industrial waste in manure on this farm," Gross said. "We want to know if there are been birds that have been left in the rubble just the same."

Groff and his fellow activists railed on Friday morning. He said activists argued that the fire and the farm's secrecy are symptomatic of an industry with systemic problems.

“If 100,000 dogs burned to death on one day there would be a national outcry, yet 100,000 hens die and advocates are not even allowed to inspect the scene,” Groff said. “Make no mistake - this fire, while perhaps accidental in a strict sense, was a product of a system riddled by violence and neglect.”

No trespassing signs were quickly put up as the protestors arrived around 10 a.m. No one got close to the doors of the Kofkoff. 

"Has there been any third party to come and inspect it to make sure the birds are safe,” Groff said.

Gross said KofKoff had been cited in the past for cruel battery cages and has avoided public disclosure of its conditions.

"We're wondering if there are injured hens, are there hens that have suffered smoke inhalation," Heather Davis, of Lebanon, said. 

While these activists are still demanding to see the current conditions for themselves, other neighbors told Eyewitness News they aren't concerned about the farm.

"If you like to eat eggs and chicken, they gotta raise them someplace," Edward Keefe, of Lebanon, said.  

Independent eyes were on the Kofkoff farm this week. Local officials said Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection were on site on Thursday morning monitoring the cleanup. 

Officials from the Department of Agriculture inspected the farm on Friday, which was a follow-up to their initial inspection early Wednesday.  

Department of Agriculture Commissioner Steve Jensen said water, electricity and feeding systems were all restored early Wednesday to the Kofkoff farm. Around that time, Jensen said "production has returned to normal levels."

Following the inspection, Jensen said the damage to the chicken coop could have been worse if not for the "quick response" of the firefighters. He added that "there were no adverse effects" on the other chickens.

“Any time you have a fire of this magnitude at a farm it is tragic because of the loss of animals and infrastructure. In this case, the damage was limited because of emergency planning by the company and the Lebanon volunteer fire department,” Reviczky said in a statement on Friday. 

The commissioner encouraged "all agricultural operations to work with their local public safety officials to develop an emergency-response plan."

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