Federal and state officials are still trying to pin down the cause of that salmonella outbreak last month that forced the recall of over 500 million eggs that were produced by two giant Iowa egg farming operations—Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey says it's already clear there needs to be some action to prevent similar outbreaks in the future.
"You will see at the end of this, not only a U.S. government response to these two egg farming operations, depending on what investigators find in the end, but you'll also see a legal response as well," says Northey. Northey warns against punishing all egg producers for the alleged sin of one. He says it is in all producers' best interest to bring to the consumer the safest product that is available. "So anyone who is out there producing food and is trying to cut corners that causes problems, they have a great deal at risk. The Iowa egg industry and egg farmers are constantly trying to figure out how to do a better job."
Hillandale Farms is a separate company from Wright County Egg, but Hillandale buys chickens and feed supplied by Wright County Egg. So that may be how Hillandale picked up the salmonella. Investigators are still trying to find the cause.
Responsible farmers take great pride in the food they produce
Last week, Northey released the following statement: "Responsible Iowa farmers, who take great pride in the integrity of the food they grow, have been greatly troubled by the recall of more than 500 million eggs that came from Wright County Egg Farms. Farmers and consumers alike have been concerned by the reports of the conditions inside the facilities where the recalled eggs were produced. Following this recall a comprehensive investigation has been initiated."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is responsible for the safety of foods in general, including whole shell eggs, he says. Federal oversight is necessary to ensure rules and regulations remain consistent across state lines. As part of this responsibility, the FDA is tasked with preventing the spread of diseases, such as salmonella.
Wright County Egg was not following normal industry standards
The investigation is ongoing, but a preliminary report shows that Wright County Egg was not following normal industry standards. FDA found violations such as overflowing manure storage facilities, poultry and wildlife comingling, flies and maggots in hen houses and flies on eggs. The full report can be found on FDA's website at www.fda.gov.
"These violations indicate a serious management problem at that particular facility, and as a farmer, I am offended by the nature of the reported violations," says Northey. "But, it is important to remember that this is an isolated management problem, not an industry norm.
"I've had the opportunity to visit numerous farms as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and I can report that Iowa farmers are among the most caring, hardworking and responsible farmers in the country. They have to be, as they grow and raise the food that helps feed the world," he adds.
ISU specialist says Wright County Egg is exception, not the rule
The Des Moines Register newspaper recently published an interview with Hongwei Xin, a specialist in poultry housing at Iowa State University, who said that the conditions found at Wright County Egg are not consistent with the operations on the more than 50 egg farms he has visited across Iowa.
The facts show that salmonella does not discriminate based on size or method of farming. Farmers who follow the rules and have implemented best-management practices, regardless of their size, have turned Iowa into the national leader in egg production. Over the last 10 years Iowa farmers have been able to safely deliver 100 billion eggs to customers around the world because they care deeply about the health of their animals and the wholesomeness of their products.
Northey notes, "What is important now is how we can prevent this type of outbreak from happening anywhere, ever again. The FDA is now stepping up their inspections of egg production facilities to ensure best-management practices are being followed."
Given all of this, it is very worrisome that some activists are attempting to take advantage of this recall. Rather than trying to make food safer, they are trying to advance their agenda. "It is vital that we learn from this situation, punish those responsible and continue to build on our efforts to improve food safety," concludes Northey. "Farmers, their families and everyone else who enjoys a hearty 'eggs and bacon' breakfast expect nothing less."