LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — Brad Pitt and Bill Maher say Costco contributes to animal cruelty by selling eggs from caged hens.
Pitt sent a letter to the chief executive of the big-box chain Thursday asking the company to stop selling eggs produced this way. Pitt's letter to Craig Jelinek says caged birds suffer atrophy of their muscles and bones from years of immobility, adding that the cages have been banned in California and much of Europe.
"As you know, these birds producing eggs for your shelves are crammed five or more into cages that are not large enough for even one hen to spread her wings," Pitt writes.
The letter continues, "In short, cramming hens into cages for their entire lives constitutes cruelty to animals, and animals deserve better. As you know, many major corporations, from Burger King to Unilever, are getting rid of cages-and Whole Foods hasn't sold eggs from caged hens in years.
"I admire Costco's many positive social commitments. You've shown great courage and integrity on a range of issues. Won't you please extend that sensibility-and basic decency-to chickens?"
Maher took aim at the company in an editorial published last week by The New York Times.
"Multiple investigations into battery cages document animals with deteriorated spinal cords, some who have become paralyzed and then mummified in their cages," Maher wrote. "Imagine cramming five cats or dogs into tiny cages, hundreds of thousands in each shed, for their entire lives. That would warrant cruelty charges, of course. But when the egg industry does it to hens, it's considered business as usual."
Maher also commended Costco for its other animal-welfare efforts and called on the company to make good on its 2007 promise to move toward uncaging its egg-laying hens.
Pitt and Maher each spoke out on behalf of Farm Sanctuary, an organization that advocates against the mistreatment of animals and factory farming.
Farm Sanctuary issued a statement Thursday morning to CBS2/KCAL9: "When Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, and Bill Maher all weigh in to say that cages are horribly abusive of animals and should be banned, it's time for Costco to listen. The animal protection community is laser-focused on Costco's support for cruelty to animals, and the issue is not going away. The company should immediately set a reasonable time frame for getting rid of cages in its supply chain."
Costco released a statement last month that there are "vigorous debates about animal welfare and laying hens."
"Some, such as the Humane Society, advocate that hens be 'cage free,' and not confined in cages. Some advocate that cages are safer for hens," the statement reads.
The statement acknowledges that Costco's sales of organic/cage-free eggs have increased "more than twentyfold" over the past nine years.
The company did not elaborate, nor specifically address the celebrity complaints.
Costco said it is "committed to the ethical treatment of animals" and its code of ethics is part of the company mission statement.
CBS2/KCAL9's Joy Benedict spoke to several shoppers at a Costco in Santa Clarita, which offers eggs from either caged or cage-free hens.
Customers said they supported Pitt and Maher's efforts.
One woman said she "is very cautious about buying cage-free eggs."
She said "a cage-free chicken is unhappy and you're eating up that unhappiness."
A shopper who grew up in Iowa vouched for cage-free eggs: "We had chickens for a while and let them roam around on the farm. And the eggs are better."
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