August 18, 2010
In Wake of Egg Recall, The Humane Society of the United States Urges Industry to Eliminate Cage Confinement Systems for Laying Hens
A multi-state egg recall this week illustrates the risk to public health of cramming millions of hens in cages so small they can barely move an inch their whole lives.
"Factory farms that cram egg-laying hens into tiny cages are not only cruel, but they threaten food safety," stated Michael Greger, MD, director of public health and animal agriculture for The Humane Society of the United States. "According to the best available science, simply by switching to cage-free housing systems, the egg industry may be able to halve the risk of Salmonella for the American public."
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 100,000 Americans suffer egg-borne Salmonella infections every year. An increase in Salmonella infections led this week to a nationwide recall of eggs from Wright County Egg in Galt, Iowa. The company confines more than 7.5 million egg laying hens. Every scientific study published in the last 5 years found increased Salmonella rates in cage operations.
American Egg Board research has shown that that common egg cooking methods such as scrambling and serving over easy and sunny side up are insufficient to eliminate the threat of Salmonella. To protect public health, the industry must take steps to reduce risks on the farm, including moving to cage-free operations.
The recall affects 13 whole egg brands distributed in California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
This month, The HSUS released a new white paper addressing the threat that cage confinement of laying hens can pose to food safety, as well as assessing the probabilities of Salmonella contamination among different housing systems:
- Every one of the last ten studies comparing cage to cage-free systems found higher Salmonella rates in cage systems, including a 2010 study that found 20 times greater odds of Salmonella infection in caged flocks.
- About 95 percent of egg-laying hens in the United States are confined in cages so small, the animals can't even spread their wings.
- Cage-free hens generally have two to three times more space per bird than caged hens. Cage-free hens may not be able to go outside and, like caged hens, may have parts of their beaks cut off, but they can walk, spread their wings and lay their eggs in nests—all behaviors permanently denied to hens crammed into battery cages.
- Michigan and California have passed laws to phase out the use of cages to confine hens, and similar legislation is pending in other states. California also passed a law requiring that all whole eggs sold statewide be cage-free by 2015. In Ohio, agriculture leaders agreed to a moratorium on the construction of new battery cage egg facilities.
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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization—backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty—on the web at humanesociety.org.