Egg recall collides with California's Prop 2

Sep 1, 2010

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.

By Jeannette E. Warnert
Author - Communications Specialist