Pennsylvania's largest egg farm faces animal-cruelty charges

Operators of one of Pennsylvania's largest egg farms were acquitted of animal-cruelty charges based on video shot by an undercover animal rights activist.

H. Glenn Esbenshade, the owner and chief executive of Esbenshade Farms, and farm manager Jay Musser each faced 35 counts of animal cruelty.

District Judge Jayne F. Duncan found them not guilty of all counts in a ruling issued late Friday. The reasons for Duncan's ruling were not immediately clear; her office said Monday that no written opinion was filed.

The videotape was made over several days in December 2005 by an investigator affiliated with the animal rights group Compassion Over Killing. The tape was alleged to have captured instances in which hens were impaled on wires from their cages, trapped and unable to get to food and water, and caged with decomposing carcasses of other hens.

Esbenshade said he questioned the accuracy of the 19-minute tape.

"I don't know if all of the video is even (of) my farm," Esbenshade said Monday. "The way the video looked, I could not be in business today."

Animal rights groups have said the cruelty charges were the first lodged against an egg farm in Pennsylvania, America's third-largest egg producer.

Gordon Einhorn, a lawyer for Humane Society officer Johnna Seeton, who filed the charges, said he suspected the judge did not want to set a legal precedent.

"My sense is that she saw it as a groundbreaking case and just didn't want to take that leap without other case law to rely on," Einhorn said, adding an appeal was unlikely.

Einhorn said the Lancaster County district attorney's office denied Seeton's request for a search warrant to investigate the farm.