MONCKS CORNER -- Monks at a Lowcountry monastery are looking for a new source of income.
Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery on the Cooper River, announced Thursday it will cease its egg production business after pressure from an animal rights group.
The phaseout of the industry, which has sustained the brothers for more than 40 years, comes after criticism by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Earlier this year, and again this week, PETA charged that the birds at Mepkin Abbey were caged in cramped quarters and suffered inhumane practices. PETA urged shoppers to boycott Mepkin Abbey eggs, which are sold at Piggly Wiggly, other grocery stores and the Charleston Air Force Base.
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Abbot Stan Gumula has disputed PETA's claims but said the continuing dispute detracts from their life of prayer, work and contemplation.
"We will be looking for a new industry to help us meet our daily expenses. We hope to find a source of income that will respect this tradition of work on the land and care for the environment."
Gumula said the brothers, who make their home at Mepkin, had begun discussions under the late abbot Francis Kline but had postponed a decision because of his illness and death last year.
The egg business produces 9 million eggs annually and $140,000 for the monks, 60 percent of their annual earned income, Gumula told the National Catholic Reporter.
The business will be phased out over the next year and a half.
The 28 monks, who had 28,000 chickens, also have a gift shop and sell the Earth Healer brand of fertilizer for gardens.
"We're delighted to learn that Mepkin is getting out of the cruelty business, and we hope that we can work with them to remove the hens from these cages," PETA vice president Bruce Friedrich said.
"No matter what the abuser's religion, it's wrong to abuse one animal, let alone 20,000 of them."