Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cage-housing tie to egg recall shorts truth

Feedstuffs 8/26/2010

By Rod Smith

As the egg recall related to salmonella-contaminated eggs from two farms spread over the Aug. 21-22 weekend, so did allegations that eggs from big, cage-housing operations are prone to the bacteria.

Nothing is further from the truth, according to Feedstuffs sources. Salmonella can contaminate any animal- or plant-based food from any kind of farm operation or any size, and the last major incident in which eggs and salmonella were linked was two years ago in eggs from a cage-free, organic production system, sources noted.

Still, a noticeably larger-than-usual number of customers -- many of them new to farmers markets -- lined up across the country over the weekend to buy eggs from local producers, who said they were selling out early in the mornings. Many of those producers, in conversations with customers, were critical of modern cage housing and large-scale production, according to news reports.

The Humane Society of the Unites States seized on the recall news to condemn cage housing as a food safety threat and urged U.S. egg producers to cease the housing practice and transition to cage-free operations.

However, scientists and veterinarians, in a paper released to Feedstuffs, said there are advantages and disadvantages to all hen housing types and suggested several benefits in modern cage housing.

Dr. Jeff Armstrong, dean of the College of Agriculture & Natural Resources at Michigan State University, in a statement provided to Feedstuffs, cautioned that the science is unclear regarding how and if production systems affect on-farm salmonella infections.

Some studies have concluded that there is a higher incidence of infection in flocks in modern cage housing than in flocks in cage-free floor housing, he said, and some studies have found just the opposite. More research is clearly needed, he said.

However, some anti-cage groups "cherry pick" studies to report only research that supports their perceptions or theories, Armstrong said. Based on a summary of scientific literature from around the world, any party that maintains that there is a higher prevalence of salmonella in eggs produced in cage housing is in "absolute disagreement with leading scientific experts," he said.

Editor's note: The above is part of a story that will be published in the Aug. 30 issue of Feedstuffs and posted at

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