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State considering charges in starvation of chickens

An animal rights group spokesman says the 200,000 deaths are among the worst cruelty cases in the country.

By CHASE SQUIRES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 25, 2002

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office has completed its investigation into the March deaths of thousands of chickens at a Trilby egg farm and referred the matter to the State Attorney's Office.

Sheriff's Office spokesman Jon Powers said Monday that the matter was investigated by the department's agricultural unit and turned over to prosecutors late last week. He said he could not disclose whether any recommendations were made, just that it would be up to the attorneys to decide whether criminal charges should be filed.

About 20,000 chickens starved early in March after the Cypress Foods company went broke and ran out of food. When a court-appointed receiver stepped in, her attorneys said she immediately set to work looking for a food source, but the remaining chickens at the Trilby farm were in such bad shape that about 180,000 were euthanized.

Another 800,000 chickens were euthanized at the company's Georgia farms.

This month, two national animal rights organizations -- the Humane Society of the United States, and Farm Sanctuary -- wrote to State Attorney Bernie McCabe asking that criminal charges be filed against the company and its owner, James R. Biggers.

Farm Sanctuary attorney Paul Rebein said the starvation of chickens at Cypress Foods should be considered among the largest animal cruelty cases in the country. In a 58-page brief filed with McCabe's office, Rebein contends Cypress Foods knew for months it was running out of cash and should have done something to get rid of the chickens.

"If prosecuted, this will be a landmark case," Rebein wrote. "If not, it will be an infamous injustice."

Cypress Foods attorney Herbert Donica said Biggers thought he had a buyer for the company's farms up until the prospect backed out as Cypress Foods ran out of chicken feed.

Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said last week his office would have to review the results of the Sheriff's Office investigation to determine whether any criminal acts were committed.

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