More Lessons From the Tainted Egg Recalls

By Marion Nestle
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Ivan Walsh/flickr


Saturday's print edition of the New York Times carried a front-page story on the egg recalls: "U.S. ties farm to Salmonella; town is tense." The reporter, Monica Davey, wrote from Clarion, Iowa, the town where the tainted eggs came from.

Her story reminded me of Eric Schlosser's movie Fast Food Nation. The film was intended as fiction, but much of what we are hearing about these egg operations makes it seem like fact.

Here's what struck me most about her article.

    • So far, nearly 1,500 illnesses have been linked to these eggs, a record.
    • The FDA found matching strains of Salmonella in samples taken from bone meal and barns owned by the DeCoster family.
    • The DeCosters produce 2.3 million dozen eggs per week from their Iowa operations.
    • Iowa is expected to produce 15 billion eggs from 60 million hens this year.
    • The DeCosters have a long history of violations of health and safety laws.
    • The DeCosters contribute generously to the Clarion community.
    • The plant workers are Mexican.

It's hard to know where to begin, but the take home lessons seem obvious:

    • Industrial egg operations have gotten out of hand in size, waste, and lack of safety.
    • Immigration issues are very much involved. If places like this are going to hire immigrants to work in them, we need to protect the rights of those workers.
    • The Senate needs to pass the food safety bill and enable the FDA to do more inspecting. The accompanying New York Times editorial emphasizes that point.

Sunday's New York Times editorial says it all again:

It wasn't simply that the operation is out of scale with the Iowa landscape. It is out of scale with any landscape, except perhaps the industrial districts of Los Angeles County. What shocked me most was the thought that this is where the logic of industrial farming gets us. Instead of people on the land, committed to the welfare of the agricultural enterprise and the resources that make it possible, there was this horror -- a place where millions of chickens are crowded in tiny cages and hundreds of laborers work in dire conditions.

I'm hoping some good will come of all this. Maybe this is our version of The Jungle, Upton Sinclair's 1906 muckraking book that got Congress to act immediately to pass the Food and Drug Act that governs our food safety system to this day. The Senate has been sitting on its food safety bill, S.510, for more than a year. For shame!

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2010/08/more-lessons-from-the-tainted-egg-recalls/62216/