Health

Don't Want Salmonella? Switch to Cage-Free Eggs

| by Toni Brayer MD

More than a thousand Americans are ill from eggs contaminated with Salmonella, and it has forced a recall of 1/2 billion eggs and increased scrutiny of the safety of eggs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have tracked the contaminated eggs to two Iowa facilities, one with over 1 million chickens. It turns out that less than 200 big companies supply 95% of the eggs in the United States. Wholesalers and distributors routinely repackage the eggs for sale under other names, like Albertsons or Wholesome Farms.

According to National Public Radio, the Iowa egg producer is part of the DeCoster family business, who has run large hog and chicken operations. They have faced a number of complaints and charges, including employment discrimination, environmental violations, federal immigration charges and animal cruelty charges against their chickens. They paid millions in fines to settle the charges.

There have been nine studies published in the last five years that show higher rates of Salmonella in chickens who are kept in forced confinement compared to a cage-free environment. A caged hen is given only 67 square inches of cage space to live her life. That is less space than a single sheet of paper. The hen cannot nest, perch, spread her wings or walk. Even cage free animals aren't outside pecking on the ground, but they can at least walk and lay their eggs in nests, which is a natural behavior and reduces levels of stress and frustration.

A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology reported that by switching to cage-free systems, the egg industry may be able to cut the risk of Salmonella for the American public by half. 

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California passed a law requiring that all whole eggs sold statewide be cage-free by 2015.  Michigan has also passed laws to phase out the use of cages to confine hens. With 95% of egg-laying hens confined to cages, this is a small start and more legislation is needed to protect food safety.

You can do your part by buying only cage free eggs at the market.