A multi-state egg recall this week illustrates the risk to public health of cramming millions of hens in cages so small they can barely move an inch their whole lives.
“Factory farms that cram egg-laying hens into tiny cages are not only cruel, but they threaten food safety,” stated Michael Greger, MD, director of public health and animal agriculture for The Humane Society of the United States. “According to the best available science, simply by switching to cage-free housing systems, the egg industry may be able to halve the risk of Salmonella for the American public.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 100,000 Americans suffer egg-borne Salmonella infections every year. An increase in Salmonella infections led this week to a nationwide recall of eggs from Wright County Egg in Galt, Iowa. The company confines more than 7.5 million egg laying hens. Every single scientific study published in recent years comparing Salmonella contamination between cage and cage-free operations has found that confining hens in cages significantly increases Salmonella risk.
American Egg Board research has shown that that common egg cooking methods such as scrambling and serving over easy and sunny side up are insufficient to eliminate the threat of Salmonella. To protect public health, the industry must take steps to reduce risks on the farm, including moving to cage-free operations.
The recall affects 13 whole egg brands distributed in California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
This month, The HSUS released a new white paper addressing the threat that cage confinement of laying hens can pose to food safety, as well as assessing the probabilities of Salmonella contamination among different housing systems:
- Every scientific study published in recent years shows that confining hens in cages results in significantly increased Salmonella risk, including a 2010 study that found 7 times greater odds of Salmonella Enteriditis contamination in operations caging hens.
- About 95 percent of egg-laying hens in the United States are confined in cages so small, the animals can’t even spread their wings.
- Cage-free hens generally have two to three times more space per bird than caged hens. Cage-free hens may not be able to go outside and, like caged hens, may have parts of their beaks cut off, but they can walk, spread their wings and lay their eggs in nests—all behaviors permanently denied to hens crammed into battery cages.
- Michigan and California have passed laws to phase out the use of cages to confine hens, and similar legislation is pending in other states. California also passed a law requiring that all whole eggs sold statewide be cage-free by 2015. In Ohio, agriculture leaders agreed to a moratorium on the construction of new battery cage egg facilities.
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