September 2nd, 2010
Like many of you, I am shocked by the recent recall of over half a billion eggs. However, what is so stunning to me is not the sheer magnitude of the recall. Rather, I’m shocked that this is the first offense perpetrated by the egg industry large enough to trigger America’s outrage regarding food safety. Our egg industry is an emblem of industrialized animal agribusiness — a system that jeopardizes the health of American consumers each and every day, institutionally abuses animals, and pollutes our seas and waterways.
The Food and Drug Administration estimates that each year, 142,000 Americans are sickened by egg-borne Salmonella. Tragically, Salmonella is the top cause of food-poisoning related deaths in the United States. The conditions that created this widespread contamination are hardly an aberration — they are typical of an industry in dire need of reform. The facilities where the eggs originated are both factories (I won’t call them farms) that confine millions of hens in cages smaller than a sheet of paper. Every one of the recalled eggs comes from a caged hen. Nearly 280 million hens are confined in cages across the country.
I have seen industrialized egg factories firsthand as part of my work with the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. These operations are literally nauseating: Airborne fecal dust chokes the air, facilitating the spread of Salmonella among birds packed beak-to-beak. Massive stacks of tiny cages line the dim walls, and thousands of thin white birds shudder in the darkness. They strain to turn around and spread unused wings in impossibly small cages, scratching haplessly at the thin wires under their feet.