FDA's Egg Recall Investigation Focuses on Supplier Practices

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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The FDA is investigating feed that may have been shared between two companies. Hillandale and Wright County egg have business ties. The owner of the farm that issued the first egg recall is "Jack" DeCoster.

The Iowa egg supplier is now the center of attention in the midst of a massive egg recall from salmonella. Austin "Jack" DeCoster runs eggs plants and large animal confinement operations in Iowa, Maine and Ohio. DeCoster also has a long history of violations.

Over the past twenty years DeCoster has received multiple citations and has paid huge fines for health, safety and employment violations, all of which are public record. The focus is on DeCoster because most of the egg recalls have come from Wright County Eggs and nearby Hillandale Farms.

“Jack” DeCoster has paid fines for animal cruelty in addition to millions of dollars related to health violations at his farms. According to the CDC, the DeCoster farm has provided salmonella-tainted eggs to 15 of 25 restaurants where customers have fallen ill.

In 2003 DeCoster was cited by the FDA for “significant deviations from current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) regulations for Medicated Feeds.” It’s unlikely that DeCoster is alone.

The implications of feeding antibiotics to animals combined with crowded and unsanitary conditions at farms, means higher rates of infection that can spread from animals to humans, and could easily be linked to the ever-growing egg recall. Several experts say we can blame factory farming for salmonella and other bacterial spread. Other experts disagree.

Jeff Armstrong, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University says, "Yeah, when there are more birds, there will be more problems, but there is no clear data on whether one system of housing birds is more or less likely to encourage disease. The bottom line is that we can and have been producing eggs safely and economically in confinement. This unfortunate problem is not an indictment of the system."

Dr. Marion Nestle of the department of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, and the author of "Food Politics" and "What to Eat", is a member of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. Nestle told CBS news, “Try to imagine an enormous warehouse, as long as two or more city blocks, packed with hundreds of thousands of chickens. And that's 'free range.' Otherwise they are caged six to nine in a cage. If one gets sick, they all get sick."

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The recent egg recall may be have been inevitable, and salmonella isn’t the only bacteria to fear from factory farming practices - and then there’s the cruelty to animals.

The Humane Society has worked diligently to end the practice of confining egg laying hens in conditions that are so crowed they can’t even spread their wings. The repercussions of the crowded and dirty conditions at farms extend to humans that go beyond samonella in eggs.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, “An increase in Salmonella infections led this week to a nationwide recall of eggs from Wright County Egg in Galt, Iowa. The company confines more than 7.5 million egg laying hens. Every scientific study published in the last 5 years found increased salmonella rates in cage operations.”

“According to the best available science, simply by switching to cage-free housing systems, the egg industry may be able to halve the risk of Salmonella for the American public”, stated Michael Greger, MD, director of public health and animal agriculture for The Humane Society.

The combination of raising egg laying hens in filthy conditions and using antibiotic laced feed is not good news for the health of animals or humans. Johns Hopkins researchers have also been focused on the effects of factory farming and human health.

Ellen Silbergeld, a professor of environmental health sciences at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, is one of several researchers at Johns Hopkins and around the world focusing on the industrial farming as a source of antibiotic resistance in America. Salmonella, E coli,Campylobacter jejuni and MRSA infections can all be linked back to factory farming.

Silbergeld is quoted in Johns Hopkins magazine, “Farmacology”: “

“We have this practice of permitting the addition of almost any antibiotic that you can think of to animal feed, for no therapeutic purpose, under conditions that absolutely favor the rise of resistance. We have no controls or management of the wastes. Our food safety system is a shambles. This is a situation that is widely recognized by the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and by others, and nothing happens! It's astounding to me!" She added, "Sometimes I think we're such a dumb species, we don't deserve to survive on this planet. I mean, how many times do we have to do this?"

The egg recall is a multi-faceted problem. A current focus of the FDA is on one supplier whose farming practice is so widespread perhaps we’re still not seeing the bigger picture that how we raise our food is harming human health.

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Comments

Your article omits the most crucial information: How to identify if a carton of eggs falls under the recall. E.g., what farms and exiration dates are affected?
You can link to the FDA website that is right at the end of this article for up to the minute information about each carton under recall. : From the FDA 8/20/2010 "Through tracebacks conducted as part of its ongoing investigation into the increase of Salmonella Enteritidis illnesses nationwide, FDA and the State of Minnesota identified Hillandale Farms in Iowa as a second potential source of contaminated shell eggs. Eggs affected by this latest recall are distributed under the following brand names: Hillandale Farms, Sunny Farms, and Sunny Meadow in 6-egg cartons, dozen-egg cartons, 18-egg cartons, 30-egg package, and 5-dozen cases. Loose eggs are packaged under the following brand names: Wholesome Farms and West Creek in 15 and 30-dozen tray packs. The loose eggs may also be repackaged by customers. Eggs involved in this related recall are only eggs with the following plant numbers: P1860 – Julian (production) numbers ranging from 099 to 230 P1663 – Julian (production) numbers ranging from 137 to 230 FDA continues to have on-site investigators at Hillandale Farms of Iowa, Inc. and Wright County Egg in Iowa."
Reports state the salmonella is on the outside of the egg/shell, not within the eggs. If this is true, then shouldn't the FDA be looking at the processing facilities where the eggs are washed. It is very possible that the cleaning solution for the eggs was contaminated. Actually, that makes more sense than all the barns and chickens being affected. If the practices at the cleaning facilities are lax, then, as they say, one bad apple will spoil the barrel. It is also possible for a competitor to sabotage a facilities equipment etc to put this large producer out of business. I hope all avenues will be examined and authorities don't just look at this with tunnel vision. Seems that they are presently solely focused on the use of antibiotics in the barns - and not the facilities where eggs are gathered and processed....
Unlike most other bacteria, salmonella can actually get inside the eggs, and so can’t be washed off. According to the latest review of the subject (see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19207743), the most important route of hen to human transmission involves infected hens laying eggs contaminated with salmonella due to an infection of their internal reproductive organs. This is why the level of salmonella contamination on the farm is so important, and recent studies have overwhelmingly shown that cage-free operations have a much lower risk. Hillary, Humane Society of the U.S.
Hilary - Thank you so much and thank you HSUS for all you do.
Actually, there are several "strains" of Salmonella. "MOST" are carried in waste products and therefore affect the exterior of the egg, and the plants have "washing" technology for eggs laid in caging operations to help insure sanitation. Also, in caged operations, waste products drop immediately through the wire cages to a conveyor which moves the waste out of the building immediately, where it is processed further. Most exterior Salmonella contaminants come from contact with the chicken feces, and that will continue to be a concern in free-range operations...but can be controlled much better in caged operations. However, the strain of Salmonella in this recall is not due to exterior exposure of the egg...the laying chicken itself has the bacterial infection in their ovaries, and therefore when they lay, the infection is contained INSIDE the egg, not on the outside of the shell. This can be due to many factors, most of which would affect the immune system, not allowing the individual bird to fight off infection....crowding, poor nutrition, etc. can all combine to compromise the immune system. But that is why this recall is so necessary, because there is no way to sanitize the egg, as the infection is inside. However, that is rare, and is not the common type of salmonella infection in eggs, This is a rather rare strain.