The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating a surge in human Salmonella infections linked to contact with live backyard poultry, reported Macy Jenkins on CBS Sacramento News.
The story included interviews with several chicken owners. One small girl said she loves to cuddle her chickens because "They're so cute." The owner of three specialty chickens said he allows the animals to "sleep inside with me in my bed." Both of those practices run counter to guidelines set by the CDC.
Jenkins spoke to UC Cooperative Extension specialist Maurice Pitesky, who said poultry owners should never let the birds inside of the house. His reason: "Always assume that any bird is a Salmonella carrier."
To prevent Salmonella infection, the CDC recommends:
- Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching live poultry and anything in the area where the live and roam.
- Never allow poultry in the house, especially not in bathrooms and kitchen.
- Do not snuggle or kiss the birds.
- Stay outdoors when cleaning poultry equipment, such as cages, feed or water containers.
The most common symptoms of Salmonella infection are diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. The illness usually last 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment.
Among her sources for the story was the director of UC Cooperative Extension's Statewide Master Gardener Program Pamela Geisel, who keeps 10 hens at her own rural home west of Chico.
She said enthusiasm for homegrown hens in urban areas may be close to peaking.
“It’s sort of a fad,” she said. Still, “it’s easy to buy chicks, and they’re cheap."
Most of the potential problems tend to arise from having too many chickens in too little space, she said, so regulations for the size and housing of backyard flocks can “help chicken keepers be better chicken keepers.”
She cautioned that keeping chickens involves a significant effort.
“The poop just doesn’t go away — it’s a constant daily cleanup,” she said. “They get sick, they get parasites. For many people it’s just not worth the effort.”
California's growing marijuana business impacting agriculture
Harry Cline, Western Farm Press
California has the dubious distinction of being America’s biggest marijuana supplier. Approximately 75 percent of the marijuana sold in the U.S. is grown in California — not Mexico.
Michelle Le Strange, UCCE farm advisor in Tulare County, said she has been warned by county officials and law enforcement officers that she should be alert in driving a county vehicle in rural areas because marijuana plantation tenders might think she is a law enforcement officer, and she could be in danger.
Any government officials driving vehicles with government plates should be concerned because these marijuana plantations are operated by Mexican drug cartels, the same lawless gangs who are responsible for thousands of murders each year in Mexico. These cartels actually scour the U.S. Forest Service lands in search of ideal growing sites, often adjacent to running streams. The cartels stock these plantations with people, drip irrigation tubing and chemicals to farm the illegal weed.
Last month's enormous egg recall continues to generate news coverage about efforts to keep salmonella-contaminated eggs out of the U.S. food supply.
Experts quoted in a Los Angeles Times story published yesterday agreed that salmonella contamination can happen in any egg production system - large operations, small family farms or in the backyard. Chickens infected with salmonella shed the pathogen in their feces, which can contaminate the egg shell. In rare instances, salmonella infects a hen's ovaries and can end up inside the eggs she lays, the article said.
A Texas A&M University professor said eggs from large-scale producers should, theoretically, be safer because they are subject to state and federal regulations requiring inspections and regular testing for pathogens, including salmonella.
A Louisiana State University professor said the cages on commercial farms have slanted bottoms so eggs roll out right after they're laid, making it less likely they will come in contact with hen droppings.
Michele Jay-Russell, food safety specialist at the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security at UC Davis, told reporter Elena Conis when a foodborne illness breaks out in a large commercial concern, the problem becomes a huge, national problem very quickly. But that doesn't mean smaller-scale production is safer.
The article cited two studies comparing the occurrence of salmonella in free-range and conventionally produced eggs:
- A 1996 study published in the journal Avian Disease found higher levels of a specific type of salmonella in free-range compared to caged birds.
- A 2004 study conducted by researchers at the Poultry Microbiological Safety Research Unit at the Richard B. Russell Agricultural Research Center in Athens, Ga., found no difference in salmonella levels in free-range chickens compared to conventionally raised chickens.
As producers and government agencies continue to investigate last month's enormous recall of Iowa-produced eggs, California egg farmers are pondering whether new rules that will govern the state's hen houses will play a role in preventing or exacerbating egg-borne illness, said an article in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Proposition 2, enacted by a wide margin of California voters in 2008, will require egg producers to provide adequate room for their hens to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs.
A Humane Society of the United States spokesperson told Chron reporter Carolyn Lockhead that the evidence is "very clear" that caging laying hens increases the risk of salmonella. However, Ralph Ernst, extension poultry specialist emeritus at UC Davis, who helped write California's voluntary egg production rules, told her that cages "are more sanitary than any other housing system, period."
A farmer quoted in the story said the caged environment separates the birds from their feces.
"In a cage-free environment you do not do that," Petaluma farmer Arnie Riebli said. "You allow the birds to walk in it and you allow the birds to eat it. Believe me, all you're doing is feeding them bacteria. Would you allow a small child to play in his excrement or eat his excrement?"
How regulators will interpret and enforce Prop 2's requirements are still unclear. Some farmers believe larger, "furnished" cages will be allowed.
Dan Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center, said there is no reason to think that cages have any specific effect on the food safety aspect of the eggs.
"Cage-free is probably more dangerous when it comes to salmonella," Sumner was quoted.
Egg prices will rise about 2 cents each at the farm gate when new laws go into effect in 2015 that require egg-laying hens be given more space to move around. California voters overwhelmingly passed Prop. 2 in 2008, requiring the state's producers to modify their egg production practices.
This week, Governor Schwarzenegger signed a law that requires the producers of all eggs sold in California - even if they are out of state - to follow the same guidelines.
In stories about the latest development, the media sought expert analysis from Dan Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center, who co-wrote a report that said the California egg industry produces almost 5 billion eggs per year and was worth $337 million in 2007.
Sumner told the San Francisco Chronicle egg prices will rise across the board because of the new production practices.
"People will eat fewer eggs, but not a lot fewer eggs because they are still pretty cheap," Sumner said. He noted that about 40 percent of eggs consumed by Californians are in processed foods or are "liquid eggs" that are not in shells and that those that are imported are unaffected.
In a story yesterday on KGO-TV, a San Francisco news outlet, Sumner called consumer reaction to the new laws "a bit of a puzzle."
Currently consumers can choose to purchase the more-expensive cage-free eggs, but about 97 percent of consumers choose regular eggs."This is a product that just about everybody eats and almost everybody chooses to eat eggs raised with hens in cages; and we take that product and make it illegal," Sumner said.