Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chickens and eggs

Following up on today's discussion, Monica just sent me this NPR story about how eggs naturally stay germ-free - unless the hen that lays them is infected with salmonella. Really fascinating!

Also, here is a blog post by Marion Nestle about the FDA's inspection reports related to the salmonella outbreak. She summarizes:
The inspection violations at the Hillandale facility ranged from the seemingly trivial (unsigned forms) to the disturbing (rodent holes) to the alarming (leaky manure) to the utterly damning (egg wash water testing positive for Salmonella enteriditis).
Nestle's post links to the FDA reports, if you have the stomach for them...

And here's a really good LA Times article that discusses California's much stricter regulations aimed at wiping out salmonella. In an industry that uses economies of scale to produce profit while competing to keep food prices low, producers are reluctant to spend even just a few pennies to prevent disease.

During the average two-year lifespan of these California hens, they will be vaccinated three times, have their droppings checked five times and have their feed tested six times.

The total cost per bird: about 8.5 cents.

But in the egg world, such a seemingly small sum can mean the difference between profit and loss.

In the late 1980s, about 2,500 commercial egg producers served the U.S. market. Today, fewer that 200 big operators dominate the trade, using economies of scale to drive down production costs.

Many of the cheapest eggs are produced in the Midwest, where energy, farmland and feed cost less and where regulations are less onerous.

As a result, Iowa egg operators can undercut the competition. Last month it cost Midwest farmers 53.5 cents to produce a dozen eggs, about 16% less than in California, according to Iowa State University's Egg Industry Center.