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September 22, 2010

As Congress Addresses Egg Recall, Consumer and Animal Welfare Groups Call on Egg Industry to Phase Out Cages

Hours before a Congressional hearing on the largest egg recall in U.S. history, the National Consumers League, the nation’s oldest consumer organization, and The Humane Society of the United States, the nation’s largest animal protection organization, joined forces to call on the egg industry to phase out the cage confinement of laying hens in order to reduce food safety risks and animal cruelty. The half-billion egg recall is the latest in a series of reminders that how we treat animals can have significant food safety and public health implications.

“It is the very system of cramming birds into cages – in warehouses on operations that may confine more than a million animals – that exacerbates the spread of infectious diseases like Salmonella,” said HSUS president and CEO Wayne Pacelle. “The industry must phase out these hazardous and merciless cages.”

Even before the recall, the FDA estimated that 142,000 Americans are sickened by Salmonella-tainted eggs every year. The elderly, infants, pregnant women, and those with impaired immune systems are especially vulnerable to developing severe—even life-threatening—complications.

The egg industry has unfairly placed the blame on consumers, but given the potential for cross-contamination and the fact that many common egg cooking methods are insufficient to eliminate the threat, it is incumbent on industry to reduce Salmonella risk on the farm. An abundance of evidence suggests this can be accomplished by phasing out cage confinement, which carries greater risks due to the enormous flock sizes, the propensity for rodent and fly infestations, and an inability to adequately disinfect the cage equipment between flocks.

“Consumers don’t want to buy products from companies that abuse their workers, mistreat their animals, or pollute the environment, and they certainly don’t want to buy food that contains pathogens that could make them or their families sick.” said NCL executive director Sally Greenberg. “The link between caging of birds and increased Salmonella makes this animal protection issue a food safety one as well. This large-scale egg recall comes from a company that appears to routinely violate the rights of workers, engage in cruel treatment of animals, and dispose improperly of waste; it’s no surprise to us that this same company would produce goods that are harmful to consumers.”

Numerous public opinion polls show that most Americans oppose this extreme confinement. California and Michigan have passed laws phasing out cages, and California is phasing out sale of cage eggs. Many major retailers, including Burger King, Subway, Quiznos, IHOP and Denny’s, are already using cage-free eggs. 

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Media Contacts:
The HSUS: Erin Williams, 301-721-6446, ewilliams@humanesociety.org
NCL:  Carol McKay, 412-408-3688, carolm@nclnet.org

About the National Consumers League
Founded in 1899, the National Consumers League is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. NCL is a private, nonprofit membership organization. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

About The Humane Society of the United States
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

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