The New York Times is reporting today that the United States decided against a hen vaccine to prevent salmonella, despite its resounding success in Britain.
Stunning Results of Hen Vaccine
In 1997, there were 14,771 reported cases of the most common type of salmonella in England and Wales. With the introduction of the hen vaccine, the disease has virtually disappeared. Last year there were just 581 cases, a drop of 96 percent from 1997.
Why has the U.S. not followed this path? When the Food and Drug Administration created new egg safety rules last month, they declared that there was not enough evidence to conclude that vaccinating hens against salmonella would prevent people from getting sick.
The Elimination of Salmonella
Since this simple precaution would have cost less than a penny per dozen eggs, wasn’t it worth even giving it a try?
“We have pretty much eliminated salmonella as a human problem in the U.K.,” said Amanda Cryer, director of the British Egg Information Service. In the U.S., 142,000 illnesses every year are caused by consuming eggs contaminated with the most common type of salmonella. Let’s follow the example of the U.K. and make vaccinating hens mandatory.
Over Half a Billion Eggs
What do the two Iowa farms that have recalled half a billion eggs this month have in common? Both are linked to one person: businessman Austin “Jack” DeCoster.
DeCoster owns both Wright County Egg, the original farm that recalled 380 million eggs on August 13 after they were linked to more than 1,000 reported cases of salmonella poisoning, as well as Quality Egg, a company that supplies young chickens and feed to both Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, the second farm that recalled another 170 million eggs a week later.
Twenty Years Of Violations
But there’s a lot more to this story. The Washington Post on Sunday revealed that the DeCoster family organization, one of the 10 largest egg producers in the country, has a string of violations going back to the 1990′s.
According to The Washington Post, “in June 2010, the family agreed to pay a $34,675 fine stemming from allegations of animal cruelty against hens in its 5 million-bird Maine facility. An animal rights group used a hidden camera to document hens suffocating in garbage cans, twirled by their necks, kicked into manure pits to drown and hanging by their feet over conveyer belts.”
Abuses Of Human Rights And Animal Rights
The list goes on and on, but here are a few more:
* In 2002, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the family’s Maine Contract Farming branch $345,810 for an array of violations.
*The same year, DeCoster Egg Farms of Maine paid $3.2 million to settle a lawsuit filed in 1998 by Mexican workers alleging discrimination in housing and working conditions.
* In 1997, DeCoster Egg Farms agreed to pay $2 million to settle citations brought in 1996 for health and safety violations. Then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich said conditions were “as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop,” and cited unguarded machinery, electrical hazards, and exposure to harmful bacteria.
Where Is The Food And Drug Administration?
Two weeks ago I wrote about the salmonella outbreak at Taco Bell, in which at least 155 people had been sickened. This seems fairly minor compared to the egregious history of Austin “Jack” DeCoster and his organization.
Although it is still unclear exactly what role the company has played in the current salmonella outbreak, with at least eight major violations already on its record, why has this company been allowed to keep operating? Was it not required to make amends? Apparently not, since violations by DeCoster were first reported in 1996, and are still being reported in 2010.
So the question remains: why has the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) not shut this operation down? And why has the FDA been so slow to take action now? The American egg-consuming public deserves some answers.
(For those of us who might still want to enjoy eating eggs, click on The Egg Safety Center to find specific product numbers of all the recalled eggs.)
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