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August 27, 2010

A Carton of Salmonella

Keeping hens in extreme confinement increases risks to human health

The Humane Society of the United States has a provocative new ad campaign: one that connects the public health risk of cramming millions of hens into inhumane cages that increase Salmonella risks.

Russian Roulette

With the egg recall expanding to more than half a billion eggs in 23 states and with hundreds of people sickened, the ads are a timely reminder that the egg industry is playing Russian roulette with Americans' health.

The ads began appearing in the hometown newspapers of egg producers implicated in the current recall, including in California, Iowa, and Pennsylvania.

Inhumane, and a Public Health Menace

Every one of the more than half a billion eggs involved in the current recall comes from hens crammed into cages so small they can barely move for their entire lives. Not only are these cages cruel and inhumane, they threaten food safety. Thanks in part to this mistreatment of hens, each year 142,000 Americans are food poisoned by Salmonella-tainted eggs—and that's before the current recall.

"Each year, the U.S. egg industry is responsible for an epidemic of egg-borne Salmonella," said Michael Greger, M.D., director of public health and animal agriculture for The Humane Society of the United States. "The egg industry has a responsibility to switch to cage-free housing systems to help protect the public and reduce animal cruelty."

Egg Industry Must Protect Consumers

Common egg cooking methods such as scrambling and serving over-easy and sunny-side up are insufficient to eliminate Salmonella risk. But a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that the egg industry could halve the risk simply by moving to cage-free systems. Each of the last sixteen scientific studies published in the last 5 years (below) comparing cage to cage-free systems found increased Salmonella rates in operations that confine hens in cages.

  • 2010: 20 times greater odds of Salmonella shedding in caged flocks
  • 2010: 7 times greater odds of Salmonella in operations caging hens
  • 2010: 6 times greater odds of Salmonella in operations caging hens
  • 2010: 3 times greater odds in caged hens (though not statistically significant)
  • 2010: More Salmonella-contaminated eggs from caged hens
  • 2009: 35 times greater odds of Salmonella in operations caging hens
  • 2009: 10 times greater odds of Salmonella in operations caging hens
  • 2009: 26% greater odds in caged hens (though not statistically significant)
  • 2008: 10 to 20 times greater odds of Salmonella in operations caging hens
  • 2008: 3 times greater odds of Salmonella in operations caging hens
  • 2008: 90% greater odds in caged hens (though not statistically significant)
  • 2008: 70% greater odds of Salmonella in operations caging hens
  • 2007: 1.8 to 25 times greater odds of Salmonella in operations caging hens
  • 2007: 4.7 times greater odds of Salmonella in operations caging hens
  • 2007: 2.9 times greater odds of Salmonella in operations caging hens
  • 2006: 2.8 times greater odds of Salmonella in operations caging hens

  • To read why and how cage-confinement operations increase Salmonella risk, click here.

    For more information, visit humanesociety.org/salmonella.

    Study citations updated May 5, 2011.

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