10 – The math behind the outbreak.
It took only two farms, both operated by the same owner, to affect the supply of 17 brands, which in turn accounts for over a half billion (550 million at last count) eggs. That’s nearly two eggs for every person in America. These farms are both located in just one state – Iowa – and yet supply our entire country with eggs.
9 – The FDA has no legal power to force a recall.
You may have noticed all the articles speaking of a “voluntary recall.” That’s because that’s precisely what it was. While the FDA may have the power to levy fines, and restrictions, it cannot force a recall on such products. It is up to the owner of the individual farms – in this case Wright County and Hillandale – to choose whether or not to recall their product. Even now, a year after the large scale peanut butter recall prompted an outcry for increased FDA power in authorizing recalls, its ability to do so remains limited.
8 – The powers the FDA does have are ineffective.
This case strongly illustrates the fact that the fines and regulations that are within the FDA’s power to enforce are simply ineffective. The owners of these two farms have long been listed as “habitual violators” – meaning their fines are even heftier than those of most farms and they are unable to open new farms until the title has been lifted – for their various transgressions (including worker conditions, manure runoff/pollution, sexual harassment including rape and abuse, employment of illegal immigrants, and – of course – animal cruelty). Yet these people remain in business, their farms in operation; FDA fines notwithstanding.
7 – The amount of things eggs are used in and places you can buy them.
Eggs are prolific in cooking, they are used in so many places for so many different purposes. Are you sure you can remember all of them every time you go out to a restaurant? Or to the grocery store? Sure, we can remember not to order them over easy at the sketchy diner down the road, but what about that bottle of mayonnaise you just bought? Do you know where the eggs came from that were used in it? How long does mayonnaise stay on the shelves, anyway? Or how about that cake mix? We can count on the egg recall itself to blow over in a fairly limited time, but will we ever really know how many other products may have been made with those tainted eggs? No, we just won’t. There’s no way.
6 – On that note, think about how many eggs you eat on a regular basis.
According to the egg board, the average American eats 20 eggs a month – whether they come in a carton, from a restaurant, or from some other kind of food product. The egg board further breaks down this figure to say that 60% of eggs purchased in a month are used by consumers, 9% by restaurants, and the remaining 31% are used in food products. That means over 170 million of these eggs have been, or would have been, used in other food products. Can we really have any confidence at all that the recall was issued quickly enough, and enacted thoroughly enough, to think that these tainted eggs wouldn’t have made it into other aspects of our food supply? If I were a betting man…
5 – Over 1,300 salmonella cases have been reported to the CDC.
It’s not so much this number itself that’s scary, it’s the number of cases that are not going reported. The CDC admits that for every case reported, there could be as many as 30 more that go unreported. Assuming that’s not a conservative number (which is a big assumption), that’s almost 40,000 cases of salmonella – so far. Now, salmonella symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting, fever, chills, and so on. And that’s for a healthy person, much less a child or someone with a weakened immune system. We’ve all known someone who has gotten the generic “food poisoning,” or we’ve been unlucky to get it ourselves. Same results. So how many of us actually reported that to the CDC, or even to our own doctor? And how many of us instead just waited it out, knowing what it was and that it would go away soon enough? Is 40,000 even close to accurate?
4 – The whole entire approach to egg safety in this country is probably, most likely, completely wrong.
Okay, here’s the thing. Egg shells are porous. It’s the only way chicks could ever develop and grow – they do need to breathe in there. But it also means that bacteria like salmonella can get inside. And it means that when you wash eggs, particularly in a massive factory operation on a conveyor belt, some of that wash is going to get inside too. Inside an egg factory, there are giant tubs of egg wash that the conveyors will move huge amounts of eggs through at a high speed. Naturally, sometimes the eggs break. And then more eggs break. But the ones that don’t break – they keep getting run through the same wash. And the risk of bacterial contamination grows exponentially. The best protection an egg can get is from residual birthing fluids from it’s mother chicken, precisely what we’re spending all this time washing off. But in the US, it’s illegal to sell unwashed eggs, even though washing them only drastically increases their risk of bacterial infection – it’s like scrubbing off their natural armor. Yet EU law, on the other hand, mandates that Grade A eggs (those for direct sale to public) must NOT be washed or cleansed. We can’t both be right.
3 – The FDA has clearly shown it cannot handle food regulation on such a large scale, yet the approval process for genetically engineered salmon – the first GE animal meant for human consumption – is about to begin.
Talk about Pandora’s Box. AquaBounty salmon is engineered to grow faster and bigger in smaller spaces than regular salmon. So salmon farms can pack more salmon in to smaller places and get the same return, yield wise. But the thing about salmon farms is, the fish escape from time to time. According to the AquaBounty patent, the engineering is only for sterile females. But the thing about fish is, they change genders from time to time. It’s just one of those things they do. If we can’t even monitor what’s going on in our food system when it comes to something as basic as chickens and eggs – on land, at a farm, being raised by a farmer we’ve had clear cause to keep our eyes on, how can we possibly dream of any sort of monitoring of GE fish in the ocean?
2 – The egg recall was announced less than two weeks ago, but it’s not the only recall going on since then.
Everybody knows about the egg recall because of it’s sheer size and the media attention. But recalls are happening all the time – just look at the FDA page that lists them. Cheese, nuts, candy bars, etc. Salmonella, listeria, and so on. It’s all there. In fact, Tyson announced a recall of 380,000 pounds of deli meats just yesterday. And while none of the other recalls currently listed is of as much significance as the egg recall, it’s an indication of a trend. A trend that is going to get much worse before it starts getting any better.
1 – The egg recall, though still growing, is only the tip of the iceberg.
Same could be said about the peanut butter recall, or the spinach recall. We haven’t yet begun to see what real devastation could be caused by the concentration of supply in our food system – but these recalls give us a pretty accurate glimpse. Over the past twenty years, the number of egg companies who own 95 percent of the eggs sold in this country has dropped from over 2,500 to less than 200. And 200 is actually a good number, when you look at how few beef, pork, and chicken suppliers are out there (less than 5 companies control the majority of production for most industrial meats in our country). Elanor at the Ethicurean recently wrote a good article summing up this issue… it is one of the best and most important reasons for eating local.
In 2006, the bagged spinach e. coli recall affected 26 states.
In 2008, 143 million pounds of ground beef was recalled.
In 2009, 4,000 peanut butter products were recalled.
And in 2010, we have our egg recall which trumps them all.
So who wants to take guesses at what 2011 and 2012 will have in store for us?