photo: Sara Novak
Much confusion has surfaced about whether buying from smaller, locally-sourced egg producers is better than factory farmed eggs with regards to salmonella prevention. A recent article in The New York Times "Fried, Scrambled, and Infected discussed the issue in depth. But while the article did provide some helpful basic information, it did little to quell my fears. In a country where outbreaks of salmonella have surfaced in eggs, peanut butter, spinach, pistachios, and most recently, salmonella superbugs have taken center stage, the FDA's new egg safety rule isn't enough. The New York Times outlined the basics of egg-sourced salmonella prevention in the face of one of the country's worst ever salmonella outbreaks. When asked whether consumers should buy organic or local eggs the Consumer Federation for America's Carol Tucker Foreman claimed that there is no evidence which supports the conclusion that smaller farms are less likely to spread the disease.
But the proof is in the pudding. The single largest egg recall in history was a product of two egg producers. Half a billion eggs across 17 states were recalled. The owner of one of the Iowa farms, Jack DeCoster was said to provide "morally repugnant" working conditions and was a "habitual violator" of environmental laws according to prosecutors and regulators in the area. But even still, he's one of the largest egg providers in the country.
According to Idaho farmer Debi Vogel, even though small chicken flocks can get salmonella, small producers are better poised to respond to a crisis because they distribute a few dozen eggs rather than millions, giving consumers a greater sense of security about the food they buy from small farms.
Outbreaks like this should encourage us to know more about our food and the farmers that produce it. Additionally, the unhealthy confinement of animals allow for the contamination of livestock at such a rapid rate. Cage-free hen houses allow the hens to wonder around, and well, be hens. They can play outside, feed naturally, and lay eggs naturally. As mentioned in The New York Times article, controlling rodents through a clean hen house is the most effective way to stop the spread of the disease.
But nowadays after regulatory shortfalls have become the norm, it's not enough to read labels. Sami wrote about recent distressing photos released of a Wisconsin hen house raising eggs for Organic Valley. The fact of the matter is if you don't know the farmers, I'd be scared to eat the egg.
And while I'm not opposed to the new rules for large factory farms in the short term, it's seems we're missing the ball on this one. Eating foods contaminated with animal feces causes the disease and then the disease travels far and wide as a result of the distribution routes of massive factory farms. Mistreated animals in close quarters spread the disease fast and if it's not this disease, it's another.