Four animal rights activists charged with trespassing at a Mornington Peninsula egg farm have breached their bail conditions by breaking into the same property overnight to protest against caging conditions.
Police were called to the Somerville Egg Farm in Moorooduc, south-east of Melbourne, at 5.30am today.
The Animal Liberation Victoria activists chained themselves to a ladder inside the far end of a shed housing up to 20,000 hens at 4.30am, claiming the hens were malnourished.
ALV president Patty Mark, 62, and three other activisits – Felicity Andersen, 37, Lisa Manning 40 and Jo Osborne, 40 – wore biohazard suits and masks during the break-in, but were later arrested and removed.
Speaking to The Age by phone this morning, Ms Mark claimed conditions in the shed were "pitiful".
"There are dead hens in the cages and on the floor. The whole place is filthy and overcrowded with 15,000 to 20,000 hens, and many have severe feather loss or are totally bald," Ms Mark said.
The four women are due to face Frankston Magistrates Court on April 23, charged with refusing to leave the Moorooduc farm on May 4 last year. They were part of a group of 15 ALV members who scaled the wall of the shed and staged a 12-hour rooftop protest.
The activists refused to leave the shed despite facing jail for breaching their bail conditions, which prohibit them from coming within 200 metres of the farm.
"We want the police to inspect the farm because only they have the power to prosecute," Ms Mark said.
Somerville owner Luigi Napolitano denied the activists' allegations of cruel treatment at the farm.
"They cut locks to get into the shed. We thought they were thieves. We're going through the place now. We have found hens removed and cages open. They've upset the hens," he said.
"The police escorted them off the property. I hope they get what's coming to them."
"We follow the law. What they imagine is happening and what is happening are two different things. We have a vet that comes here at least once a month to check the hens. There's never been a problem here."
He denied free range eggs were incorrectly labelled. "There's more free range eggs produced on this farm than caged," he said.
Ms Mark said ALV first reported the egg farm to police more than 10 years ago and returned last year after receiving a tip-off from a concerned resident.
She said the group found dead and sick hens at the farm during two early-morning raids in January and February last year, however officers from the Department of Primary Industries who were called to the protest found the birds were "in good health and good condition with adequate feed and water".
Victorian Farmers Federation egg group president Brian Ahmed last year refuted ALV's claims that the farm's free range chickens were not allowed outside, a sentiment repeated by Mr Napolitano this morning.