Animal Welfare Conditions for Hens Making Eggs for Whole Foods

I ran across this story in the New York Times via a Facebook link from Marc Bellemare to a blog post by James McWilliams.  

The story is interesting for a number of reasons.  First, an animal advocacy group uses the same sorts of undercover video tactics to expose animal welfare problems, but this time does so for a cage free, organic egg producer that sells to Whole Foods among others.  Second - and this is the issue that bothered McWilliams - the New York Times story was relatively dismissive of the video and gave the egg producer's side of the story a "fair hearing" (something presumably they wouldn't have done had this not been a cage free, organic producer).  

I think it's actually a good lesson on both counts.  Cage free or organic does not necessarily guarantee high animal welfare.  There are many variables related to management and monitoring, among others, that are important. But, secondly not all undercover videos are what they seem.  As the 3rd sentence in the NYT story begins:

The hens in the video belong to Petaluma Farms, whose owners assert that the group is distorting and exaggerating the conditions under which its organic and conventional eggs are raised . . .

That may be true or it may not; we simply don't know based on the evidence presented.  The video does appear to show some disturbing images but it also doesn't provide much context.  Clearly, this was in the dead of night, when presumably the birds are less mobile perhaps not due to living conditions but because they're sleeping.  And, yes the video shows many chickens in manure, which seems disgusting.  But, I've been on small family farms that have chickens that are as free-range and un-industrial as it gets - and where do those hens like to hunt for food?  In the dung piles next to the cattle pens.  And, even in these "natural" contexts that have any sizable group of birds, one or two will likely be missing a good deal of feathers.  I'm not necessarily defending the farm in this video or the conditions shown , but what I am saying is that without more information and context it's hard to know what to make of it, though it would seem to warrant some further scrutiny.  

Sometimes its stories like this that don't quite fit the prevailing narratives that can get us to think more deeply about an issue, regardless of our initial biases.