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Monday, August 23, 2010


August 20th, 2010
11:30 AM ET
Got eggs on the brain? In light of the salmonella-based recall of 380 million eggsfrom Iowa's Wright County Egg, we've hatched up a primer on a few common terms.
Free-range: The USDA does not specify the quality or size of the outside range nor the duration of time an animal must have access to the outside or the amount of space available to them, and there is no mandate that the chickens are fed organically or are hormone and antibiotic-free.
For a chicken - and their eggs - to be labeled "free-range" or "free-roaming" theUSDA regulations state, "Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside." According to the Egg Safety Board, outside the United States, free-range "denotes a method of farming husbandry where the animals are allowed to roam freely instead of being contained in any manner."

While some egg producers are truly free-range, and the chickens remain outdoors for a good deal of the time, there is nothing preventing a factory farm from labeling eggs as free range, merely because the structure in which the chickens live has a door to an outside yard.
As author Michael Pollan notes in 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' – his 2006 treatise on the origins of several modern foods – "Since the food and water remain inside the shed, and since the little doors remain shut until the birds are at least five weeks old and well settled into their habits, the chickens apparently see no reason to venture into what must seem for them an unfamiliar and terrifying world." There's a very good chance that a free-range chicken, raised for either eggs or meat, has never seen the light of day.
Cage-free: There isn't a legal designation eggs as cage free. Many factory farmskeep their laying hens in so-called "battery cages" - typically rows and rows of wire cages in which chickens are given insufficient room to accommodate their wingspan.
In a study by the Humane Society of the United States, Dr. Suzanne Millman, Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, Canada reports that "The recommended space allowance for laying hens in some countries is 60-80 square inches per hen, barely enough for the hen to turn around and not enough for her to perform normal comfort behaviors; however, many hens are allowed less than even that meager amount."
In a cage-free facility, battery cages are not used, and typically a hen will have enough room to walk around and extend her wings, but the facilities may still be crowded, and birds may still be "debeaked." This entails the trimming of a portion of a bird's beak in order to combat cannibalism and feather pecking that may occur among birds kept in close quarters.
In July, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed A.B. 1437 into effect, making California the cage-free state in the US. The bill requires that starting in 2015 all whole, in-shell eggs sold in California must come from hens that are able to stand up, lie down, turn around, and fully extend their limbs without touching one another or the sides of an enclosure.
Organic: For eggs to be labeled "organic," they must come from farms that meet the USDA's National Organic Standards and are routinely inspected to ensure compliance. Hens must be fed organic feed - no animal byproducts or genetically modified or "GMO" crops - produced on land that has been free from the use of toxic and persistent chemical pesticides and fertilizers for a minimum of three years.
The hens themselves must be maintained without hormones and other intrusive drugs and antibiotics may only be used in cases in cases of outbreak or disease. They're also kept in a cage-free environment and allowed access to the outdoors.
Consumer's best defense
However, none of this ensures that the eggs produced by any given methodology are safe. New York University professor Marion Nestle, who maintains the Food Politics website tells Eatocracy, "It's less likely for small flocks to carry Salmonella, but it is by no means impossible."
Salmonella bacteria, generally contracted from contaminated poultry, meat, eggs, or water, affects the human intestinal tract. It's often transmitted to laying hens when rodents get into the flocks' feed, and their feces transmit bacteria to the birds.
A consumer's best defense is to wash all egg shells, store eggs at 40F or below, in the interior of the refrigerator, rather than the door, which is subject to variable temperatures, and cook eggs - yolks and all - to a temperature of 160F.
Consumers with questions should visit or call Wright County's toll-free information number (866-272-5582), which contains a message outlining recall instructions for consumers. Consumers who believe they may have purchased the recalled shell eggs should not eat them but should return them to the store where they were purchased for a full refund.
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Filed under: Eggs • Health News • News • Recalls • T1 • Tainted Food
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