Under pressure from an animal rights group, Mepkin Abbey is phasing out its decades-old egg business.

The Abbey made the announcement in a press release saying it will phase out egg production in the next year and a half.

Egg production has been one of the Abbey's main sources of income for its daily operating expenses for some 40 years.

But earlier this year, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals accused the Abbey of "shocking cruelty" to its thousands of chickens. The organization said chickens at the monastery are painfully debeaked and crammed into tiny cages. It urged the Abbey to shut down its egg farm.

The Abbey contended that it used humane practices, but offered to consider changes to the way it operates.

Father Stan Gumula, Abbot of Mepkin Abbey, said the press release that the monastery decided instead to close down the egg operation, but maintains that its egg facilities were properly operated.

"While the Monks are sad to give up work that has sustained them for many years, a hard and honorable work for which we are proud, the pressure from PETA has made it difficult for them to live their quiet life of prayer, work and sacred reading," the press release says. "The monks have also found it difficult to extend hospitality, which is their hallmark, under such conditions."

The monastery made its announcement just as PETA resumed picketing at Piggly Wiggly, the main distributor for the eggs.

In its release the Abbey said it is now looking for a new industry to meet daily expenses. As monks under the rule of St. Benedict, the monastery is supposed to meet its daily needs through "the work of their hands."

Traditionally, that work has been in agriculture.

Eggs and compost are the abbey's two commercial enterprises. The former generates about $140,000 a year, 60 percent of the abbey's annual earned income, Gumula told the National Catholic Reporter. The abbey's facilities produce about 9 million eggs a year, and the product is delivered to retailers in the Charleston area, including Piggly Wiggly. Eggs also are sold at the abbey's own store.