At first glance, the lives of cage-free hens appear to be a much-needed improvement over those of hens kept boxed up in traditional wire "battery cages." But thanks to a newly released video by an all-volunteer activist group, animal advocates are now wondering how much better off the "liberated" birds really are—and the fallout could affect a major US warehouse club, the New York Times reports. Direct Action Everywhere (aka DxE) posted "Cannibalism at Costco" on Thursday showing undercover visits to a cage-free California farm that houses hens laying eggs for Costco's Kirkland brand. The group says what it found there was horrifying: The video concentrates on a bird named Ella that DxE plucked to safety from Pleasant Valley Farms in Farmington, and the group says she was in bad shape when she was found: covered in feces, boasting hardly any feathers, and barely able to stand.
The birds around her appeared to be faring no better. "There were birds rotting on the floor, and there was one dead bird that seemed to have lost her head," Wayne Hsiung, who helped make the video, tells the Times, adding the stench in the barns was "horrible." Egg industry experts have said before that birds living "free" in these aviary systems are actually more prone to disease, aggression, cannibalism, and death, which is exactly what DxE hoped to expose. The group says it shot the video in late September/early October, mainly at night, but Hsiung insists it wasn't illegal to enter without permission since there were whispers of animal cruelty. The owner of the barn said he had no comment on the video, though he noted Costco—which also had no comment on the video—would be sending an auditor. (It didn't look good for the chickens in this Tyson Foods video, either.)