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Published: Wednesday, June 13, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
In our view / Egg industry safety


Problem bigger than cages

Which came first, the "chicken farmer" or the "egg industry"? Either way, the eternal dilemma always finds new applications.
Congress is contemplating bipartisan, "compromise" legislation -- backed by animal advocate groups and the United Egg Producers -- to create a single standard regarding caged hens. The law would mandate "enriched cages," meaning they would have room for chickens to stretch, perch, scratch and flap their wings.
Currently, most of the nation's 285 million egg-laying hens spend their lives "in spaces no bigger than a letter-sized piece of paper, barely able to move about freely or turn around..." USA Today reported.
Meanwhile, the first wrongful death suit was filed last week against Wright County Egg, the company linked to the 2010 salmonella enteritidis egg outbreak that sickened over 2,000 people nationwide, according to a PRWeb post.
The outbreak caused the Iowa-based company to recall over 380 million eggs. Details of conditions at its facilities led to new levels of disgust with "mega" food producers, which consumers are supposed to rely on to self-report food safety violations. Which is exactly what Wright didn't do.
Prior to the outbreak, Wright County Egg received 426 positive results for salmonella, including 73 samples that were potentially positive for the type identified in the outbreak. There is no indication the company notified local, state or federal officials.
The proposed legislation doesn't address the "self-reporting" or the lack of inspections or any of that. But it does give hens a little more room, and it was a hard-won compromise, and still needs to be approved.
Critics, USA Today reports, include groups representing livestock farmers who fear if this law passes, activists will seek more humane housing for other animals. (Do they hear themselves?)
Also, the American Farm Bureau Federation predicts the law will cause sky-high egg prices. Those "enriched cages" must be really expensive.
Lost in all this minutia of measuring chicken cages is the basic economic question: Is there the demand to keep the nation's 600 major egg-producing facilities churning out millions of eggs from millions of chickens?
At the Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit held in Chicago in March, it was reported that an estimated 30 percent to 50 percent of the food produced in the world goes uneaten. The average American throws away 33 pounds of food each month -- about $40 worth -- according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 23 percent of eggs ends up in the trash.
Simply "producing" less (remember when chickens used to "lay" eggs?) would be a good start for healthy hens and humans.

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Herald Editorial Board

Jon Bauer, Opinion Editor: jbauer@heraldnet.com

Carol MacPherson, Editorial Writer: cmacpherson@heraldnet.com

Neal Pattison, Executive Editor: npattison@heraldnet.com

Josh O'Connor, Publisher: joconnor@heraldnet.com

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