Here’s what egg producers had to say after one of their largest, Wright County Egg,  poisoned thousands with Salmonella in conjunction with a recall of half a billion eggs:  it’s your fault.  It is a stunning position to take in light of FDA findings from an inspection of Wright County Egg facilities in Galt, Iowa, as listed in pleadings filed on behalf of Marler Clark clients in Federal District Court in Iowa this week.   Here are some "highlights,"  with further listings at Marlerblog and the FDA:

  • Chicken manure located in the manure pits below the egg laying operations was observed to be approximately 4 feet high to 8 feet high at [multiple]locations.  The outside access doors to the manure pits at these locations had been pushed out by the weight of the manure, leaving open access to wildlife or domesticated animals.
  • Un-baited, unsealed holes appearing to be rodent burrows located along the second floor baseboards were observed.
  • Dark liquid which appeared to be manure was observed seeping through the concrete foundation to the outside of the laying houses at [multiple] locations.
  • Standing water approximately 3 inches deep was observed at the southeast corner of the manure pit located inside Layer 1 – House 13.
  • Un-caged birds (chickens having escaped) were observed in the egg laying operations in contact with the egg laying birds at Layer 3 – Houses 9 and 16. The un-caged birds were using the manure, which was approximately 8 feet high, to access the egg laying area.
  • Layer 3 – House 11, the house entrance door to access both House 11 and 12 was blocked with excessive amounts of manure in the manure pits.
  • There were between 2 to 5 live mice observed inside the egg laying Houses 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, and 14.
  •  Live and dead flies too numerous to count were observed at [multiple] locations inside the egg laying houses. The live flies were on and around egg belts, feed, shell eggs and walkways in the different sections of each egg laying area. In addition, live and dead maggots too numerous to count were observed on the manure pit floor located in Layer 2 – House 7.

The egg industry’s position took a well-deserved beating from several critics, including Seattle University School of Law Professor Catherine O’Neill.  O’Neill likened the industry’s tactics to those employed by environmental polluters who, rather than contain or limit their environmental destruction, ask those who are affronted by it to alter their behavior, a practice she calls "risk avoidance."

The arguments raised by O’Neill and others are further strengthened by a story today in the Wall Street Journal.  Alicia Mundy and Bill Tomson report today on consumers’ misplaced reliance on the USDA "Grade A" stamp on eggs:

To some shoppers, the meaning of the "USDA Grade A" shield on egg cartons seems pretty obvious.

"It means that the rabbi’s blessed this as kosher, right?" said Stephen Potter, an early-morning shopper at a Safeway store in Alexandria, Va.

"It means they’ve been checked. It’s the quality seal. They’re safe," suggested Susan Hergenrather, who was cruising the aisles at a Harris Teeter supermarket.

Wrong and wrong. The mark on the carton just means that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had a "grader" at an egg-packing facility who checked the eggs’ size and color and made sure the shells weren’t cracked, a USDA official said. Consumers "misunderstand" the shield, he said.

Marking the eggs "Grade A"  is not mandatory, but likely allows producers to charge more for eggs.   But, contrary to public perception, it does not signify any inspection with respect to human pathogens, "the USDA isn’t looking for bacteria such as salmonella in the egg or the hen," according to USDA officials quoted in the article.   Mundy and Tomson explain:

The egg side is different from the meat side at the USDA, where inspection programs are mandatory and the inspectors’ job includes looking for sanitation problems. "The USDA mark of inspection is only applied to meat products after inspectors in the plant have confirmed its safety and wholesomeness," said Brian Mabry, a department spokesman.

So consumers, remember, its not the egg producers job to maintain sanitation at their own, basically unregulated facilities.   They expect you to do their job.  But they won’t mention that,  and don’t put warnings or cooking instructions on their products, outside of a misleading government stamp.   And if you get sick, remember, it’s your own fault.