Skip to content

Good Eggs and Bad Eggs

August 26, 2010

A week ago it was 380 million eggs. Now it’s about 550 million eggs.  It’s a mind-boggling figure.

You may be wondering where the additional 170 million eggs came from.  Interestingly enough they came from another Iowa producer, Hillandale Farms of New Hampton.  It seems like they are getting off easy in the media, since their modest quantity of Salmonella enteritidis-infected eggs is dwarfed by the earlier recall from Wright County Egg of Galt, Iowa.

Another reason why the recall is so large is that the infected eggs go all the back to April and span production through July and August.  For those of you without fingers, that is five months of bad eggs.

Last week when the recall was significantly smaller I wondered, “What will it take to get some serious food policy discussions moving?”  And I think I have the answer: a very smart lawyer.  Meet Bill Marler (again).

He’s the good egg.  I’ll get to the bad egg in just a minute.

Here is what he had to say, as reported in the Omaha World-Herald:

The awareness that a half-billion suspect eggs have been circulating in the food supply is an embarrassment not only for the egg industry but for federal regulators, said Bill Marler, a Seattle attorney who has filed suit alleging illness from tainted eggs at a Wisconsin restaurant. He said he has been retained by two dozen families and was representing a woman hospitalized in California.

“The question is ‘Who was inspecting the plants, if anybody?’” Marler said Monday to The World-Herald. “An outbreak with 550 million bad eggs and 1,300 sickened people has been going on for a while. I suspect nobody was inspecting.’’

Marler said the episode raises many questions about food safety roles played by the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. The FDA inspects shell eggs and the USDA inspects processed eggs.

And Marler’s been taking his opinions to the airwaves in interviews with Larry King, FOX, CNBC, CNN, MSNBC, KABC, etc.  He has also been calling for congressional hearings, where he’d like to get a few answers.  On his blog he raised the following questions:

1. Why did it take three months for local, State and Federal health officials to act on a four-fold increase in Salmonella Enteriditis cases? Is this a resource issue? A coordination issue? Why did it take so long to link those illnesses to eggs? For food safety a bioterrorism reasons these questions need to be answered.

2. Who was in charge of inspecting these facilities? USDA/FSIS or FDA or both? Were inspection performed? If not, why not?

Phyllis Entis of has convinced me that for federal agencies to identify an outbreak of Salmonella enteritidis takes time.  Since there currently isn’t good federal information available about illness from this outbreak by state, she went and spoke with a bunch of state officials, and we in New York seem to be fine.

(from statement of Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker)
None of the recalled eggs have been found in New York State, nor have there been any recall-related cases of Salmonella Enteritidis reported to the Department of Health.

That is great news. The less great news is what has been coming to light about Austin “Jack” DeCoster and his track record running Wright County Egg.

* In June, for instance, the family agreed to pay a $34,675 fine stemming from allegations of animal cruelty against hens in its 5 million-bird Maine operation. 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.

* In 1992, a criminal complaint against DeCoster’s operation on Maryland’s Eastern Shore alleged that it had sold eggs to a store in Cecilton and to the Cecil County Detention Center in violation of a salmonella quarantine order.

* In 1996, DeCoster was fined $3.6 million for health and safety violations at the family’s Turner egg farm, which then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich termed “as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop we have seen.” Regulators found that workers had been forced to handle manure and dead chickens with their bare hands and to live in filthy trailers.

The list of legal violations is long, the fines have been significant, but until now they haven’t been at the heart of an outbreak that has sickened 1,300 people and counting.

I for one, am glad that Marler is on the case.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. RealFoodMom permalink
    August 26, 2010 4:19 pm

    I’m so grateful that we here in Albany can easily purchase local eggs from small farmers at various locations: farmers markets, Honest Weight Food Co-op, and my personal favorite — stopping one’s car at a country farmhouse with a “Fresh Eggs” sign on the front lawn. While I’m terrified for our nation’s food supply, I don’t feel personally affected by this Salmonella scandal, since I don’t buy that product. We will keep eating runny eggs, and making homemade mayo with raw eggs, in our own house. We’ll think twice about it when eating out, however.

  2. August 29, 2010 12:28 pm

    I just kind of assumed I’d purchased the salmonella eggs. I mean, I usually buy the cheapest eggs I can find. Albany John told me about this post and how we likely didn’t have salmonella eggs.

    But in lieu of trying to buy locally, this week I purchased local eggs, at 300% of what I am used it. I bit of a sticker shock, but one worth paying in the long run, I’m told. Thought you’d get a kick out of that one.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: