How did this many eggs get infected with salmonella? Following a massive egg recall, both casual and professional observers of American agriculture are taking a closer look at the details of the case. Something, they declare, is wrong with this system.
- Where Was the Regulation? A New York Times editorial
argues that though the producers are more directly to blame,
"federal officials also must take the rap for moving too slowly to
strengthen the country's food safety system." Coincidentally, "this
outbreak occurred just as a strong new egg safety rule was finally
being put into force." The new rule gets "high marks" but took "a full decade" to hash out and was only put into effect July 9. Here's what it says:
It requires producers to buy chicks and young hens only from suppliers who monitor for salmonella; establish rodent and pest control and other measures to prevent the spread of bacteria throughout the farm; test their poultry houses for the bacterium; and if contamination is found, test samples of their eggs. If any of the egg tests is positive, the eggs must be treated to destroy the bacterium or diverted to non-food uses.
- 'Preventing Salmonella Should Not Be Difficult,' agrees nutrition professor and food safety expert Marion Nestle
at The Atlantic. The precautions being introduced "sound reasonable to
me," she says, "but I care about not making people sick. ... I'm buying
eggs at farmers' markets these days," she concludes grimly.
- Particularly In This Case: The Offender Has a Record At environmental site Grist, Tom Philpott
explains that Austin "Jack" DeCoster, owner of Wright County Egg
Productions, one of the two likely sources of the outbreak, is "one of
the most reviled names in industrial agriculture." DeCoster has a
history of running "highly polluting hog factories" and is a "'habitual
offender' of water-quality laws." In addition, the company has a bad
reputation regarding treatment of its workers, and settled a lawsuit
against five illegal immigrants in 2002 who said they had been raped
while working there. Writes Philpott:
The outrage here is not that Wright County Eggs has released nearly half a billion tainted eggs into the market, exposing untold numbers of people to sickness. DeCoster's record of abuse--of people and the environment--has taught anyone who's paying attention to expect such things from his operations. The outrage is that regulatory authorities at both the state and national levels have allowed him to continue hiring workers and producing food as violations piled up.
Against the 'Free Market' Argument "If the market would really take
care of these problems, what is DeCoster still doing in business?" asks
Salon's Francis Lam.
"The fact of the matter is that in the market, plenty of producers
aren't aiming for impeccable quality and lowest price; they're aiming
at what they can get away with in a broken system of underfunded
inspections and opacity to consumers." This is why regulation is necessary.
- Options "This expansion of the regulatory state," writes Mark Mitchell
at Front Porch Repubulic, "is really the only option when a) food
production is centralized and therefore beyond the knowledge of nearly
all who participate in the current food system, and b) when the first
instinct of citizens is to look to the federal government to protect
them from all harm." On the other hand, there is an alternative:
decentralizing food production. That's also known as the farmer's
market or local food solution.