The FDA has cleared Hillandale farms to sell their eggs again, as a recent inspection has revealed they are taking steps to reduce salmonella poisoning (Entire story here).
For those of you who were unaware, this past summer, public health officials in a few states noticed a rise of cases of Salmonella poisoning. It was traced back to two farms in particular: Wright County Egg & Hillandale Farms, which led to a nationwide-recall of about 500 million eggs. Meanwhile, roughly 1500 people got sick.
It doesn’t take a public health degree to surmise that the results of the congressional investigation were not pretty. According to the New York Times, the congressional report discovered the presence of dangerous bacteria as far back as 2008. Over a 2 year span, there “were 73 instances…in which sponges swabbed on egg conveyor belts and other areas in Wright County Egg’s barns showed the presence of salmonella bacteria, including the strain that infects eggs and causes human illness.” In other words, the farmers knew there was salmonella present in their farms, but according to congress, didn’t do much about it. A really scary thought, considering how many people eat eggs every day.
Unfortunately this seems to be the rule, not the exception.
To the vast majority of animal and egg farmers in America, food safety and responsible farming take a distant back seat to their bottom line. If you could imagine the filthiest, most inhumane, living conditions in which the animals you get your food from are raised, you would probably just scratch the surface of reality. Since we are talking about eggs in particular, lets take a look at chicken farms.
The chickens pictured above can be defined as “Free Range” as long as they have “access to the outdoors.” This could be a small door at one corner of the barn that is open for a short period of time each day. The chickens that aren’t put directly by that door are out of luck. Not the warm, green, outdoor scene of happy chickens I pictured when reading “Free Range” on my egg containers.
In actuality, Free Range birds tend to be in a dark barn with thousands of other birds. Their feed, which often contains chicken parts, is infused with antibiotics to try to prevent the diseases they will inevitably get living in these conditions.
As genetics research and technology improved, chickens were genetically engineered to grow larger breasts and reach their maximum size in a fraction of the time it would take a typical bird. An incredible achievement for the meat industry, enabling them to make more money per chicken. Unfortunately, the chickens’ legs were were forgotten in this process. Many of these chickens can hardly walk more than a few steps, due to their unnaturally heavy upper bodies supported by their normal legs.
If you buy chicken from the super-market, it is almost certain that they were raised this way, even if the packaging says “All natural, free-range, cage-free birds.” This applies to restaurants as well. Factory farming has become such a profitable business because just about any restaurant or fast food chain that serves meat buys from these factory farmers. Why wouldn’t they? It’s so much cheaper than buying from a local farmer. Chipotle is one of the few major companies that does not agree with this philosophy. You can read about their “food with integrity” here.
This doesn’t mean everyone must become a vegetarian. Buying your meat and eggs from local farmers or Whole Foods can help. Although it isn’t perfect, Whole Foods provides meat that is antibiotic free and usually raised in much better conditions. Eating at Chipotle instead of Qdoba or another chain will help as well.
Sometimes a crisis is needed to catalyze change. Hopefully this was that crisis.
For more information on factory farming and the current state of the food industry, you can read books like: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, or Michael Polan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma.
Food Marketing, Food Safety