ANNAPOLIS, MD (AP)--An animal rights group alleged Dec. 4 that its investigation of a Baltimore-area egg farm found chickens living in "unimaginably cruel conditions" with up to 11 hens stuffed into wire cages so tightly they couldn't stretch their wings.

Miyun Park, the president of Washington-based Compassion Over Killing, and a colleague sneaked into Red Bird Egg Farms in Millington, 40 miles east of Baltimore, six times from August to November, discovering the hens in cages the size of a filing cabinet drawer.

The chickens sometimes lived in the same cages with the decomposing carcasses of dead hens, the group reported. Others were clearly sick or injured--many with their feathers rubbed off by the wires or other chickens. Still more were found foundering below the long lines of stacked cages in a pit designed to catch manure.

"If the abuse egg-laying hens endure was forced upon dogs or cats, it would be illegal," Park said. "It's time we take a stand against such cruelty and stop buying eggs."

The campaign is part of a new focus by animal rights groups, targeting what they call "factory farms," which raise million of chickens, cattle and hogs. In the past, such advocates conducted high-profile campaigns highlighting the practices of fur farms and cosmetics companies which tested their products on animals.

Compassion Over Killing and other like-minded groups say they found the same conditions at other major egg farms in Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio and New Jersey.

"Everything natural to being an animal is denied when they're raised for food, and people are revolted when they find out," said Bruce Friedlich, a spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Shirley Steele, the owner of Bear, Del.-based Red Bird Egg Farms Inc., did not immediately return calls Dec. 4. A woman who answered the phone said Steele was the only person who could comment.

Ken Klippen, vice president of government relations for United Egg Producers, a trade group representing 85% of the country's egg producers, defended the industry's commitment to producing eggs in ways that does not harm chickens.

He said scientific research can "support having chickens in cages as the humane way of producing eggs," he said.

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