Just in time for the dinner hour, ABC News lets us know that America’s big factory farmers cherish the great Heartland American(tm) value of frugality:
Millions of eggs from the Iowa farms at the heart of a massive salmonella recall are not destined for the garbage but for a table near you. The recalled eggs that were already shipped to grocery stores and restaurants are being dumped by the truckload. But the eggs still being laid by potentially infected chickens will be pasteurized to kill any bacteria. Then they can be sold as liquid eggs or put in other products such as mayonnaise or ice cream.
It’s a common if little-known practice in the food industry — salvaging and selling products that may have been tainted with disease.
The FDA cannot order the farms to kill hens that may be infected with salmonella, but the farms could decide to do that on their own. Neither would discuss that possibility.
[Wright County Egg spokeswoman] Hinda Mitchell would not say whether the hens could wind up being used for meat — common practice for egg-laying hens once they pass about 18 months of age and become less productive.
A similar process has been used to salvage other raw products tainted with bacteria. Ground beef found to contain E. coli bacteria, for instance, is sometimes diverted for use in precooked products such as frozen meatballs, said Don Schaffner, a professor and microbiologist at Rutgers University. Tainted meat could also wind up being used in canned soup, he said.
Because the farms involved in the recall have so many hens, Schaffner said, “it would be a catastrophic waste if these hens were not going to be used in some way in the food supply.”
It has previously been reported that the DeCoster family egg empire paid millions in fines over the past 20 years to settle charges of everything from persistent animal abuse and repeated violations of state environmental laws to subjecting its undocumented immigrant workers to conditions “as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop we have seen.” (But of course patriarch Austin ‘Jack’ DeCoster is “a born-again Christian who, according to Maine officials, once fired a manager because he was an atheist”.) The Washington Post also reports:
The Food and Drug Administration, which has responsibility for the safety of whole eggs, had never inspected the two Iowa-based facilities at the heart of the massive recall that began 10 days ago. Nor had the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.
Under a long-standing regulatory divide, the USDA regulates the health of the chickens, not the eggs they produce. The agency has visited the producers at the heart of the outbreak, but only to grade the quality of their eggs as part of a voluntary program, according to USDA spokesman Caleb Weaver. Quality graders visit packaging facilities, not laying houses, Weaver said.
And while some states inspect farms and egg-laying facilities — and several conduct vigorous inspection programs — Iowa, the leading egg-producing state, does not, said Dustin Vande Hoef, spokesman for the state’s agriculture department . “Clearly this is a tragic situation, but two federal agencies have been given the responsibility to ensure food safety and we count on them in that regard,” Vande Hoef wrote in an e-mail.
The NYTimes gives the glass-half-full perspective:
As it reeled from the recall of half a billion eggs for possible salmonella infection, the American egg industry was already battling a movement to outlaw its methods as cruel and unsafe, and adapting to the Obama administration’s drive to bolster health rules and inspections.
By any historical measure, American egg production is efficient and comparatively safe. The current recall is the largest in memory, but involves only a small fraction of the 70 billion eggs produced annually, mostly by hens who spend their lives with six or seven others in cages the size of an open newspaper, their droppings carried away by one conveyer belt while the eggs are whisked off by another.