February 12, 2013

2 charged in chicken starvation at Stanislaus egg farm

Prosecutors have filed criminal charges against two operators of a Stanislaus County egg farm, where authorities said they found an estimated 50,000 hens without feed a year ago. More than 40,000 hens died.

Prosecutors have filed criminal charges against two people associated with a Stanislaus County egg farm, where authorities said they found an estimated 50,000 hens without feed a year ago. More than 40,000 hens died.

Andy Yi Keunh Cheung and Lien Tuong Diep have been charged with one felony count of animal cruelty each. Cheung is the owner of A&L Poultry on South Carpenter Road about a half-mile south of Fulkerth Road, west of Turlock.

It's unclear what Diep's role was with the egg farm. Public records indicate that she operates Lucky Transportation Inc., a Ceres-based hauling company for wholesale poultry products.

Martha Carlton-Magaña, Cheung's defense attorney, said Tuesday that her client did nothing criminal. "My client was practicing within the standards and practices set by the industry," she said.

A&L Poultry had been in the process of shutting down its egg production operations. Carlton-Magaña said an attempt to hand over the hens and avoid the usual business practice of euthanizing the hens resulted in an unacceptable situation that the egg farm did not intend and profoundly regrets.

The defense attorney said the evidence will show that an animal rights activist had made arrangements with A&L Poultry to pick up hens that were intended to be euthanized. But the activist didn't pick up the hens, she said.

The defendants appeared in Stanislaus County Superior Court for the first time Monday afternoon, and Cheung pleaded not guilty to the charge. Diep did not enter a plea because the court needs to appoint a public defender to represent her.

Judge Susan Siefkin scheduled Cheung and Diep to return to court Feb. 28 for a continued arraignment hearing. The defendants remain free from custody as they await prosecution.

Animal rights groups said they rescued 4,460 hens that survived, but about 460 of them died afterward because they were too weak or sick. Of the 40,000-plus hens that died, about a third starved, and the rest were euthanized because of their poor condition, according to the Stanislaus Animal Services Agency.

At the time, authorities estimated that the birds had not been fed for two weeks. The animal services agency discovered the unfed hens last February after it received a complaint about the farm.

High feed costs a factor?

The hens starved apparently because of the high cost of feed, Bill Mattos told The Bee last year. Mattos is president of the Modesto-based California Poultry Federation, which usually deals only with meat birds but helped deal with the egg farm.

The egg farm response included the animal services agency, the county public works and agriculture departments, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and industry people.

The animal rescue groups in May filed a lawsuit against A&L Poultry, Cheung and Diep. They are seeking reimbursement, at least $25,000 to cover feed, shelter, veterinarian and other costs related to the rescue of the hens that survived.

The Sonoma County-based Animal Legal Defense Fund is handling the lawsuit on behalf of Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary in Stockton; Animal Place, based in Grass Valley; and Farm Sanctuary, which is based in New York state and has a farm in Glenn County, north of Sacramento. An attorney for the defense fund said the lawsuit's intent, mainly, is to hold A&L Poultry accountable.

The plaintiffs and defendants in the civil lawsuit are to return to court April 2 for a case management conference in Stanislaus County Superior Court.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or (209) 578-2394.

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