For anyone that does not think that politics can be front and center in decisions on the safety of our food, order your eggs “sunny side up” and sit down with Lyndsey Layton’s front page story in the Washington Post “Unsafe eggs linked to U.S. failure act” at your local diner this morning. You may just get more than just heartburn.

Breakfast Meal.jpgAs you dip your toast in the egg, do not forget that we just finished up a recall of over 500,000,000 eggs that sickened at least 1,900. The hearings at the House Energy and Commerce Committee were the typical theatre that I have become accustomed to – with the victims (my clients) and the villains (the guys I am suing). However, as Ms. Layton points out:

…. What has not drawn much scrutiny is the role of the federal government, which recognized 20 years ago that salmonella in eggs posed a public health threat. Although federal inspectors have closely monitored meat and poultry production for the better part of a century, they have largely ignored eggs, another staple of the American diet. It was not until July, well after the recent outbreak was underway, that the government’s first rules on safe egg production took effect.

Unlike other regulatory efforts, this one did not sputter under lobbying pressure by business. In fact, the $4.4 billion egg industry had been seeking mandatory rules for years, despite the red tape and extra costs. Consumer groups wanted the regulation, and public health experts supported it, along with economists who said the benefits would far outweigh the costs. …

So, why did it take 20 years? As her report continues:

…. But the proposal was thwarted by government itself – philosophical resistance to regulating business as well as rivalries and dysfunction at two federal agencies that share responsibility for keeping egg production safe….

Balkanization was a key factor in the government’s failure to regulate eggs over the past two decades. The push for federal rules on egg production stalled in the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations as the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture dug into their own silos. It collapsed when the George W. Bush administration brought a renewed skepticism about regulation to the executive branch. …

Politics matters and philosophy matters:

… “Essentially, they said, ‘Show us how many people are sick, dying and hospitalized, and show us your rule is worth the cost,” said William Hubbard, associate FDA commissioner from 1991 to 2005. The FDA thought it had a compelling case. The rules would cost farmers $82 million a year but could save $1.4 billion in medical costs and lost productivity by preventing 79,000 illnesses and 30 deaths a year. Still, OMB “didn’t think there were enough bodies in the street,” Hubbard said….

How’s that egg?

  • Bill Anderson

    The egg I had for breakfast this morning came from a local farm whose chickens are on pasture. No need to worry about Salmonella. The chickens in their natural environment are colonized by a community of micro-organisms that exclude salmonella.
    Salmonella only thrives in the disgusting unnatural crowded CAFO conditions. I actually know a scientists who helped to isolate (some of) the cultures found in naturally raised chickens.

    Andy Schneider of Alpharetta, Georgia, is known as “The Chicken Whisperer.” He has a radio show where he doles out advice on raising chickens, and organizes a meetup group, with more than 1,100 members, for chicken-raising fans in and around Atlanta:
    You need to realize, that just because they’re in the backyard, they’re not exempt from getting the same illnesses as commercial birds. … There’s no scientific data at all, no studies, to make a claim that backyard birds are healthier, or eggs are better [with regard to salmonella]. There are some studies that talk about nutrition, or saying they are more nutritious: lower in cholesterol, higher omega-3s.”

  • “…. What has not drawn much scrutiny is the role of the federal government…”
    That’s true, Bill. The hundred of comments by people like me (including to Lyndsey Layton and The Washington Post, not to mention, Food Safety News) went unheard in the cacophonous response to the outbreak by almost all of the supporters of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. I can cite example after example where y’all wrote of how this outbreak showed the need for passing S 510 immediately and assisted in the FDA’s cover-up of its misfeasance and nonfeasance in its “regulation” of shell eggs.
    And, even in this “Investigative” report, Lyndsey Layton and The Washington Post continue this cover-up with her dissembling statement, “But the rules were too late to prevent the outbreak this summer.”
    What hogwash! No rule, however wise (and the FDA’s Final Shell Egg Rule is far from wise) can prevent anything without enforcement. And, despite having had clear responsibility under the law for many years, the FDA had NEVER inspected the greatest scofflaw egg producer in the country.
    As I began pointing out on August 20, 2010 in my comment on Dan Flynn’s article, “1300 Made Sick by Bad Eggs, CDC Says” (, the FDA’s rules went into force for Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms on 7-9-10 which was DURING the period covered by the voluntary recall. Thus, probably, well over 200,000,000 of the eggs recalled were AFTER the FDA’s Final Shell Egg Rule was in force; so clearly, it did NOT stop the outbreak.
    Finally, what may be the most important message of the outbreak is that the FDA continues to ignore very strong epidemiological evidence (e.g., Bullock’s Bar-B-Que in Durham, NC during late April 2010) that the egg pasteurization the FDA mandates (and the CDC supports) for contaminated eggs is NOT a true, verifiable Critical Control Point.
    When is that going to be scrutinized?

  • John

    The local pasture-raised eggs that I get here in South Florida have shells that are very thick and hard compared to most of the store-bought eggs I’ve had. Common sense would dictate that the thicker shells, which are more resistant to cracking, are better equiped to guard against post-laying contamination. Many of the store-bought eggs I see have very small crack-like “fracture lines” in their shells. Although the albumin is not oozing out of these, I bet that microscopic bacteria can find their way into the eggs via these corridors. The thicker shells are also a sign of much healtheir chickens, which means their immune systems are functioning better and that they have not been grown in cramped conditions that encourage contamination.