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Salmonella with Your Omelet? Don't forget Stroke and Ovarian Cancer


Why do Americans continue to eat a food which can harm them both short term and long term?

In addition to salmonella, eggs are the highest cholesterol food known to man, causing the heart attacks and stroke 33.5 million Americans take statins to avoid. Hello? They are also linked to diabetes, ovarian cancer and contain antibiotic residues.

Yet as unnecessary as eggs are in the diet (baking alternatives exist), as cruel to animals, as banal as a consumer product, demand is kept alive by the egg industry like fur coats.

Ask for an egg-free pastry in otherwise politically correct Starbucks in Chicago and you'll get a blank stare. (Thank you, Argo Tea.)

Last week FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg warned if you eat your eggs runny and over easy something else could become runny and over easy (not to mention sunny side up.)

Krista Eberle of the United Egg Producers' Egg Safety Center agreed, telling USA Today "all the responsibility cannot be placed on the farmer. Somewhere along the line consumers have to be responsible for what they put in their bodies."

While the FDA and egg industry's "boil order" may spare people salmonella's bloody diarrhea, fever and vomiting, boiling sewage probably makes it safe too. Before you buy your next carton of eggs, consider this.


1) Yuck factor
Undercover video shot at Menifee, CA-based Norco Ranch egg farm in 2008 shows bloody, insect-covered eggs destined for tomorrow's omelets. Video also shows the bleeding and prolapsed hen's vents that produced the eggs, conditions for which they received no veterinary care. Egg operations are so plagued with salmonella and other bacteria, the FDA found a hatchery injecting antibiotics directly into eggs. And the eggs those birds laid? They had residues of antibiotics, says at least one medical study.

2) Ovarian cancer
"Our findings suggested that ovarian cancer risk was positively associated with higher consumption of dietary cholesterol and eggs," says the journal, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. The American Journal of Epidemiology, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention agree. Results from the Nurses' Health Study, a 20 year study of 84,129 women, also show an egg consumption/ovarian cancer link. Why are we surprised? Human eggs are produced in women's ovaries.

3) Eggs Produced Amid Carcasses and Moribund Hens
Laying hens crammed into battery cages don't always survive. And while workers periodically come through to remove them from the living as undercover video from Turlock, CA-based Gemperle Enterprises farms shows* (Gemperle eggs are distributed by NuCal Foods, a U.S. Department of Defense vendor), dying hens also surround the "farm-fresh" eggs. "Another live hen, also trapped under her cage's front wall, had the side of her face on a moving egg belt. I saw that the side of her face, including her eye, was encrusted in what appeared to be egg yolk and dust," writes an undercover humane investigator at a DeCoster farm last year. The DeCoster family are the producers at the heart of the salmonella outbreak and egg recall.

4) Steeped in Noxious Gases
Because egg farms stack hens on top of each other over manure pits so farmers don't have to clean cages, the air is toxic for the animals, workers and other humans who enter barns. According to United Egg Producer guidelines (the group that approved the farms producing the salmonella eggs) ammonia should not exceed 25 ppm but "temporary excesses" are acceptable. Cesar Britos, an attorney representing egg workers, tried to enter an egg operation in Turner, Maine owned by Jack DeCoster and said "I thought I was going to faint and I was only there a few minutes.'' Last year law enforcement and state agriculture workers entered the same operations in Turner, more than a decade later. This time four workers had to be treated by doctors for lungs burned by ammonia.

5) Diabetes
Got diabetes? Eating eggs is "positively associated" with the risk of diabetes, finds May's journal, Nutrition and last year's Diabetes Care. While other studies have disputed the connection, some financed by the egg industry, the journals Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases and International Journal of Clinical Practice say consumption of eggs in people who already have diabetes is "associated with an elevated risk of coronary heart disease."

6) Cruel and Unhygienic "Depopulation"
Unlike meat chickens that are hung upside-down and eviscerated at slaughterhouses, laying hens, which do not usually provide meat, are too cheap to spend money killing. Undercover video shows laying hens twirled by the neck, tossed into garbage cans where they suffocate, kicked into manure pits to drown and put into kill carts workers push through to be gassed, when they're lucky. As many as 30,000 unwanted hens were fed live into a wood chipper at Ward Egg Ranch in San Diego County, CA in 2003. And fires, like one at the DeCoster-tied Ohio Fresh Eggs operation in Harpster in March that killed 250,000 hens are frequently allowed to consume the hens.

7) Killing Zones Called Hatcheries
Even when laying hens are "free range" and not confined in battery cages, the egg industry is predicated on the death at birth of half of the chicks. Since male chicks are of no use to the egg industry, newly born males are ground up alive at hatcheries. Video at Hy-Line in Spencer, Iowa clearly shows healthy male chicks peeping and bouncing as they are fed live into rotating blades like so much litter, coming out a bloody slush used for dog food. "If someone has a need for 200 million male chicks, we're happy to provide them to anyone who wants them," says UEP spokesman Mitch Head. "But we can find no market, no need."

8) Blight on Workers, Neighbors and the Environment
When Labor Secretary Robert Reich viewed a DeCoster egg factory in the '90s he said, "The conditions in this migrant farm site are as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop we have seen.'' Federal investigators found DeCoster workers living in rat and cockroach-infested housing with unsanitary drinking water, their children often pressed into work. In addition to abuse of migrant workers, egg operations have been sued by neighbors for their odors, black flies and environmental pollution. One grandfather who lives near Ohio Fresh Eggs says he has to hold a fly swatter when his grandchildren visit. Inside the house!

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Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist, who writes about public health

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