FDA's Egg Recall Investigation Focuses on Supplier Practices
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."
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.