Two men charged with abandoning 50,000 hens to starve to death near Turlock were arraigned on charges of felony animal cruelty Monday.
Andy Cheung and Lien Diep, both owners of Turlock-based A&L Poultry, face up to three years in prison and fines of up to $20,000.
The Stanislaus County District Attorney filed the charges, which are rarely pursued against industrial agriculture producers. Under California Penal Code, it is a crime to deprive any animal of proper food, water or shelter, or to cause “needless suffering” or “unnecessary cruelty.”
According to prosecutors, Cheung and Diep left 50,000 chickens unfed for as long as two weeks in February 2012 at an egg farm west of Turlock.
A&L’s legal representation sent a statement to TurlockCityNews.com stating that at the time, the company had attempted to transfer the chickens to a third party, but failed, resulting “in an unacceptable situation A&L Poultry did not intend, and profoundly regrets.” Other farmers have speculated that Cheung and Diep were unable to afford feed due to skyrocketing corn prices.
As many as 20,000 of the birds had either starved to death or drowned in manure pits under their cages before an anonymous tip led authorities to the warehouse. A further 25,000 hens had to be euthanized.
The remaining 5,000 birds were rescued by Animal Place, Farm Sanctuary, and Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary, in what was the largest farm animal rescue in the California's history.
Lawyers representing the three rescues and the Animal Legal Defense Fund have also filed a civil lawsuit against Cheung and Diep. The Stanislaus County Superior Court authorized the case to move forward, but defendants have filed an appeal.