Eggs from modern farms are safe and wholesome

Ken Klippen of the U.S. National Association of Egg Farmers writes in support of Will Coggin’s letter to the editor on the Massachusetts ballot initiative on caged layers producing eggs. The group I represent, The National Association of Egg Farmers, is in support of free choice for eggs from different production systems, but the ballot initiative will eliminate that free choice.

cage.eggsAs it relates to food safety, every egg farmer knows that eggs laid on the same ground where manure is located increases the likelihood of contamination.

The Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply, a group of scientists investigating the different production systems for eggs, finished their two-year study of the available research including food safety. The conclusions from their analysis of the research is that eggs produced in caged environments had less fecal contamination compared to cage-free eggs. This is logical since cages allow for the eggs to be removed from the environment of the hen compared to cage-free, where the eggs come into contact with manure. Any reasoning person would conclude that keeping eggs clean and away from manure is better from a food safety perspective.

Caged eggs allow for cleaner eggs.

The scientific articles that support this claim are below:

1) The Journal Poultry Science in 2011 [90, pp. 1586-1593] published “Comparison of shell bacteria from unwashed and washed table eggs harvested from caged laying hens and cage-free floor-housed laying hens.”

This study found that the numbers of bacteria on eggs was lower in housing systems that separated hens from manure and shavings.

2) The Journal Food Control published a study June 17, 2014, entitled “Microbiological Contamination of Shell Eggs Produced in Conventional and Free-Range Housing Systems.” The conclusions state, “Battery caged hens are standing on wire slats that allow feces to fall to a manure collection system beneath the hens. Conversely, free-range hens laid their eggs in nest boxes on shavings and the eggs remained in contact with hens, shavings and fecal material until they are collected. The longer contact time with free-range hens, shavings and feces would explain the higher enterobacteriaceae counts (pathogenic bacteria) on free-range eggs as compared to battery caged eggs.”

One of the letters to the editor claims that caged layers increases salmonella, citing a government survey. This is not true. It’s not even logical when considering the federal agency responsible for food safety has issued regulations to protect the consumer. The Food & Drug Administration has issued the regulation entitled Prevention of Salmonella Enteritidis in Shell Eggs During Production, Storage, and Transportation (21 CFR part 118) on July 9, 2009, requiring shell egg farmers to implement measures to prevent SE from contaminating eggs on the farm. If caged environments increased salmonella, it’s inconceivable that FDA would issue regulations governing the production of eggs in caged environments.

’Good business to put the safest products on the market;’ organic association adopts language of big ag

Killing customers is bad for business.

Especially the valued repeat customer.

It’s also bad for business to make customers barf.

But, companies do it all the time, so there is a need for regulation, a legal system, and public oversight to at least embarrass so-called leaders into providing safe food.

It’s a little weird when an organic type, under questioning about safety, resorts to a big ag line (for those foodies who like to distinguish based on size and conspiracy theories).

Christine Bushway of the Organic Trade Association told the Associated Press one of the best checks on food safety is the devastating effect a recall or foodborne illness outbreak can have on a company’s bottom line.

“It’s just good business to make sure you are putting the safest products on the market,” she says.

The comments were in a story about the perceived safety of organic foods in light of repeated recalls and outbreaks –like the salmonella that sickened six in Minn. and was linked to organic eggs.

While sales for food produced on smaller operations have exploded, partially fueled by a consumer backlash to food produced by larger companies, a new set of food safety challenges has emerged. And small farm operations have been exempted from food safety laws as conservatives, farmers and food-lovers have worried about too much government intervention and regulators have struggled with tight budgets.

Bushway of the Organic Trade Association did get it right when she said food safety comes down to proper operation of a farm or food company, not its scale.

“How is the farm managed? How much effort is put into food safety? If you don’t have really good management, it doesn’t matter.”

But she misses out on an opportunity to once again stress organic is a production system with almost nothing to do with microbial food safety — the stuff that makes people barf.

Water, hands and poop: produce production practices under study in NZ

The New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) is conducting a new study into how water and natural fertilisers – such as manures, biosolids and compost – are used by the horticultural industry.

NZFSA specialist advisor Marion Castle says the study will help growers continue to produce safe fruits and vegetables and avoid problems that have hit the fresh produce industry overseas. The study will also look at how contaminants from these sources that might be introduced to fresh produce are currently controlled.

Internationally, outbreaks of foodborne illness have resulted from contaminated irrigation water, contaminated water used to wash fresh produce, improperly treated manures, animals defecating on fresh produce, and poor personal hygiene practices.

NZFSA’s new study will look at organic and conventionally grown fresh produce. It will focus on fresh produce intended to be consumed raw, or as a raw dried or semi-dried product.

In 2009 NZFSA conducted a survey of illness-causing bacteria in fresh ready-to-eat fruit and vegetables at retail. The survey indicated a very low level of contamination in New Zealand produce, and pathogens were only detected in two of 900 samples. Both were Salmonella-contaminated lettuces from the same grower.

Reported produce-related food safety outbreaks in New Zealand are rare. Instances include an outbreak of Hepatitis A associated with raw blueberries in 2002. In 2005 consumption of raw carrots was identified as the probable cause of an outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul.

As part of this new study NZFSA will be talking with growers about their current practices.

Large or small-scale eggs, is one safer?

Elizabeth Weise of USA Today writes in a story just posted on-line that there is nothing small scale about Pearl Valley Eggs, deep in the heart of Illinois farm country. The egg farm itself, two miles south of the nearest town, is a neat collection of 350-foot- and 450-foot henhouses covered in white steel siding. They’re linked by overhead pipes that bring in ground corn and soybeans from the farm’s own feed mill and conveyor belts that take out chicken poop.

The farm employs 100 people and produces 800,000 to 850,000 eggs a day, seven days a week.

Yet, in the face of the nation’s largest recorded egg recall, a total of 550 million eggs potentially infected with salmonella enteritidis, and revelations of filthy conditions at the two Iowa egg farms involved, many animal rights groups and organic supporters have pointed a finger of blame at industrial animal agriculture.

Ben Thompson, 30, who runs Pearl Valley Eggs with his father, Dave, who founded the business in 1987 and now houses 1.1 million Shaver chickens in seven henhouses, says since the Thompsons began testing a decade ago, the farm has never once had a positive test for salmonella enteritidis.

The story says there is a definite link between large flock size and salmonella. On average, large-scale U.S. layer operations with more than 100,000 hens per house are four times more likely to test positive for salmonella enteritidis than smaller houses with fewer than 100,000 hens, according to a paper set for publication in January in the journal Poultry Science. The report suggests that one reason might be that salmonella is transmitted in contaminated feces and dust, and higher densities of birds mean more of both.

At the same time, scientists caution that there haven’t been good studies to show the rate of salmonella infection in equally large flocks that are cage free.

Jeffrey Armstrong, dean of the School of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University in East Lansing, says, "It is about management — each type (of production method) has its advantages and disadvantages."

At Pearl Valley, Dave Thompson says happy hens, safe eggs and making a profit are possible, but it takes a lot of attention to detail and spending 12 hours a day, seven days a week in the barns. "I take good care of my birds and my wife, and I put every penny back into the farm."