Friday, August 27, 2010


One of my business friends recently posted the following question on Facebook: "Where do jumbo eggs come from?"  Whimsically I replied,  "From jumbo egg cartons!"  Today, after many articles about the current half billion egg recall, I would probably say, "From a farm in Iowa."

The NYT, Washington Post and LA Times simply cannot write enough articles about the egg recall.  Here are some egg facts I have learned from these papers in the past week:
  • The eggs came from two farms in Iowa but (as of today) were distributed  under 35 different labels, giving consumers the impression that the eggs were from many different places.
  • Only "192 large egg companies own about 95 percent of laying hens in this country, down from 2,500 in 1987."  Wash. Post 8/24/10
  • The FDA regulates the eggs and the USDA regulates the chickens. Wash. Post 8/24/10
  • The two farms where the contaminated originated were never inspected WSJ 8/23/10
  • The farms had the same supplier and he was cited before for safety violations. NY Times 8/27/10
  • Scientists predicted a problem of this magnitude would happen. LA Times 8/24/10
  • The US rejected a plan implemented by the UK to vaccinate chickens which has dramatically decreased salmonella in the UK from eggs, even though the cost of the vaccination program added only fractions of a penny to the cost of an egg. NY Times 8/25/10
Eggs are a delightful, nutritious low cost food in our country. Yet thanks to former Sec'y of Agriculture Earl Butz eggs are part of the megaproduction of food in our country based on the extensive growth and use of corn as feed and for other products (like that lovely sugar substitute high fructose corn syrup). Egg prices are low because they are "manufactured" in chicken factories that organizations like Peta and the Humane Society have been criticizing for years.  Chickens in these factories have no room and eat a diet of corn which is not meant for chickens.  However, unlike cows who get obviously sick on the corn and must be given antibiotics in order to grow and produce, the chickens do not stop producing even if they are sick.

These conditions do not change because we love our cheaply produced food. Instead we blame our government (which we really wish were smaller) when our cheap food makes us sick.  I have seen three articles, one in the Wash. Post (see above),  one in the NY Times and one in the Atlantic that have focused on the failure of the government to coordinate the regulation of our cheap eggs, because different agencies have different responsibilities.  And yet, when there was an opportunity to do something that has been proven effective, the  Bush Administration FDA apparently acceded to the demands of Big "Farma" and nixed lost cost vaccination for the chickens.

Thinking that the problem can be fixed by putting a bandaid on administrative issues seems underwhelming.  The bigger problem is our ignorance as a nation of the sources of our food and our reliance on cheap food produced in any way possible to maximize profits and limit costs in the short term. The long term costs, as exemplified by this salmonella outbreak, and eventually by the illnesses deriving from obesity caused by our addictive processed food supply (see David Kessler's  book, The End of Overeating) will come back to roost!

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