HSUS spokesman says supply of spent hens on the decline

By TIM HEARDEN

Capital Press

At least some Valley Fresh chicken apparently won't come from the valley anymore.

Hormel Foods Corp. has announced it is closing its meat canning plant in Turlock, Calif., by the end of October and moving the operation to other facilities -- including one in Iowa.

The closure, which will affect 163 employees, will enable Hormel to improve efficiencies in purchasing and distribution, the company said in a news release.

However, the move will likely have little or no impact on California's poultry industry as a whole, said Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Federation.

"The industry is not going to be affected, it's just the employees," Mattos said. "The poor employees are going to lose their jobs."

Hormel representatives did not respond to repeated requests for a phone interview about the agricultural impacts of the Turlock closure.

Julie H. Craven, the Austin, Minn.-based company's vice president of corporate communications, told the Capital Press in an e-mail that one of the facilities that will produce Valley Fresh will be in Dubuque, Iowa. Her comment was sent through a spokesman.

Hormel opened its $89 million plant there in late March. The plant -- the first the company has built in more than a decade -- is already producing microwaveable meals and will likely add the canning line in the fall.

The Turlock plant's closure follows an apparent change in the way the product is made.

Hormel acquired Valley Fresh -- including the plant -- in 2006. Previously, the plant used meat from spent hens, or laying hens that could no longer produce eggs, Mattos said.

"They put those chickens in cans because you can't really eat them any way else," he said.

But the market for spent-hen meats collapsed in recent years, as no facility in California has been willing to accept them since 2006, noted Paul Shapiro, a spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States.

"These birds don't have much meat on them," Shapiro said, adding that most spent laying hens are now killed on the farm and used in composting or rendering.

"There are a couple of egg-laying hen facilities that I know of that do ship spent hens to slaughter, but it's very minimal," Shapiro said. "It's by far the exception rather than the rule in the United States."

Hormel representatives declined to say from where the meat for Valley Fresh now comes. But egg industry representatives near the San Joaquin Valley plant say the meat is from broilers, said Debbie Murdoch, a Pacific Egg and Poultry Association spokeswoman.

Employees at the Turlock plant will receive severance pay and may be able to work at one of four other Hormel facilities in California, the company stated in the news release announcing the closure.

Hormel expects to take a one-time charge of about 5 cents per share in the second quarter to cover the costs of the closure, the release stated.

Online

Hormel Foods Corp.: www.hormelfoods.com

California Poultry Federation: www.cpif.org

Pacific Egg and Poultry Association: www.pacificegg.org

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