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A Recent Article on the Egg Recall that Completely Misses the Point

August 31, 2010
Organic Consumers Association
by Honor Schauland

A recent article from US News and World Report begins with the subtitle "Shopping for organic or local farm stand eggs may not help you avoid salmonella poisoning." The article goes on to ask the question "Are organic eggs less likely to carry salmonella? What about those sold on farm stands?" You can imagine where this is leading.

Next they roll out the expert, one Martin Wiedmann, an associate professor of food microbiology at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. who makes a vague statement such as "I've not seen any evidence suggesting that these eggs are any safer."

Then the article goes on with a real gem of wisdom, that if you stop buying factory farmed eggs because of the egg recall, that is like "assuming that cars are a safer mode of transport than planes whenever we hear about a jetliner crash."

Then the article states that battery cages are a good thing. Ok, fine, it doesn't say that exactly, but it does say that "some studies indicate that [unconfined hens] may be more likely to be exposed to the bacteria, often found in dust on the henhouse floor, than hens confined to battery cages, which don't touch the ground."

And then, of course, the article cites the recent USDA study about chemical contaminants in cage-free hens. There is, of course, no mention of the probable chemical or hormonal contaminants in conventionally farmed chicken. There is no mention that a study done last year by Consumer Reports found that the majority of conventionally farmed chicken tested was contaminated with pathogens, while the organic chickens tested were found to have fewer or no pathogens.

The rest of the article details proper egg-handling and food safety tips that we have all heard a jillion times before, such as recommendations to never eat raw eggs, always wash your hands and cutting boards to reduce cross contamination, refrigerate, refrigerate, refrigerate, sanitize, sanitize, sanitize.

Perhaps most tellingly of all, I find I am most drawn to the left side bar, where there is a list of "Related Articles."

I quote:

It strikes me that the regular readers of US News and World Report must be a pretty fearful and paranoid bunch, who long ago gave up the joys of the occasional ripe, raw tomato, caesar salad, raw oysters, egg over easy, or heaven forbid, a glass of milk straight from the cow or goat that produced it. I imagine these folks' homes to be spotlessly clean and sanitized, and yet I imagine that they continue to be unhealthy and their children all have allergies.

Folks, of course you should be fearful of your food if it comes from a filthy factory farm and is trucked halfway across the country encountering god-knows-what contaminants and improper handling along the way. The conventional food system is broken and US News and World Report is a fear-mongering waste of time.

People die every day. People get sick from food, in various forms, every day. Some of those people maybe even ate organic food. Obviously, all the precautions in the world can't make any of us truly "safe." However, I would venture to say that no matter how you slice it, big agribusiness, conventional farming - our broken food system - have killed more people and done more damage than organic, small-scale agriculture has. especially when we are talking about salmonella outbreaks, E. coli,  and other food recalls.

Food safety should definitely be a concern for each and every one of us. It's just common sense. But it's important to look at the biggest picture possible. Was producing this food safe - for the environment? For the farmer? How can we get the best quality food, while still keeping pathogens out of that food, and our air and water?

Everyone will choose their own way to answer these questions. For some the answer is fear. And when you're so afraid of the egg that is in front of you for breakfast, it's an easy decision to say "Irradiate everything," or douse your entire home in triclosan so that you don't have to be constantly vigilant about germs.

For myself and many others, however, the answer is increasingly to buy organic and local, to grow or process or harvest our own food, to know our local farmers and trust them with our safety rather than blindly putting our trust in large faceless corporations that care little or nothing about our health and well-being.

Honor Schauland is a web editor for OCA and a backyard organic chicken farmer. She encounters trillions of bacteria daily. She firmly believes in handwashing, but not with antibacterial soap. She regularly eats eggs that are not always fully cooked, and drinks raw milk whenever she can get her hands on it. She also eats an average of 7 spiders a year, just like everyone else.

For more information, please visit OCA's Food Safety Resource Center.

Related Articles:

Salmonella Outbreaks Spur Nationwide Egg Recall

Food Safety Bill Would be Bad for Local and Organic Farms

Factory Farms Make You Sick. Let Us Count the Ways

Iowa Ag Secretary Boasted of State's Vast Egg Industry, Failed to Regulate it

With Salmonella Recall Expanding to Half a Billion Eggs, it's Time to Rethink 'Efficiency'