Huge egg recall highlights our broken food system, yet again

eggs
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The animals are sick and we're getting sick. Industrialized farming doesn't work.

A massive ongoing egg recall is yet another reminder that the way in which we produce our food is wasteful, cruel, and completely unsustainable. The Food and Drug Administration has recalled 206,749,248 eggs in nine states (Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia) since 22 people have fallen ill with salmonella. According to Food Safety News,

"Healthy individuals infected with Salmonella Braenderup can experience fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella Braenderup can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections, endocarditis and arthritis."

The eggs were all produced at the same farm in Hyde County, North Carolina. This facility has 3 million laying hens, which produce 2.3 million eggs every day. It is the biggest recall since 2010, when 550 million eggs produced on two farms in Indiana were recalled. The farmers responsible at the time pleaded guilty to "allowing misbranded and adulterated food to enter interstate commerce"; they paid $7 million in fines and spent three months in federal prison.

These punishments are little consolation for the fact that our food supply chain has become so unreliable. The problem, however, is rooted in the industrialized, mass production model. When millions of laying hens are crammed into tight quarters, with no access to the outdoors, and egg production is ramped up to the absolute maximum with the aid of growth hormones and artificial light, the presence of illness should not come as a surprise.

The most shocking lesson for me after getting my own backyard chickens was how much manure they produce. I was not prepared for the sheer volume of poop, even from just five birds. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, laying hens typically produce around 4 ounces of manure daily, which is twice the volume of the 2-ounce egg they lay each day. Multiply that by 3 million hens and your store-bought eggs are being churned out in a giant steaming vat of feces. Is it any wonder salmonella likes hanging out there?

There is a better way of raising food and avoiding future mass recalls like this one, but it requires the counterintuitive approach of scaling back. A return to small-scale farming would result in healthier, happier conditions for birds and cleaner, safer food for humans, but it would also mean no more eggs for $2/dozen. Think about it: Wouldn't you rather pay that price with your wallet than your health?

Take a stand against industrial egg production by seeking out local farmers or neighbors who raise their own. Eat fewer eggs or less meat so you can afford to pay more for a higher-quality product. Consider getting your own hens; they're very cheap, productive, and fun, especially if you have kids.

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