Out of Control Egg Producer Flouts Regulations: Consumers Deal with 500 Million Salmonella-Tainted Eggs
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Some, although not enough, is being done to address each of these problems. For starters, the House passed a food safety bill a year ago that would give the FDA the authority to force mandatory recalls of unsafe food (currently all recalls are voluntary, which is perhaps why the tainted eggs date back to May but we are talking about them in August). The Senate has yet to pass the same bill, but they plan to bring it to the floor for a vote in September. If it comes up for a vote, it will most likely pass easily.
Second, the Department of Justice is holding a series of five workshops around the county to examine consolidation in agriculture. The next one, held in Greeley, CO on Friday, August 27, will look at consolidation in the livestock industry. However, workshops alone are of little value if they do not result in meaningful reforms. The Department of Justice has not said what actions it plans to take following the workshops.
Third, Americans have taken measures into their own hands to call for more humane conditions for egg-laying hens. California's Prop 2, mentioned above, overwhelmingly passed in 2008, setting the stage for similar ballot initiatives in other states. In Ohio, the state with the second largest egg-laying industry (second to Iowa), preempted the passage of a measure similar to Prop 2, passing a ballot initiative last November that put industry in charge of a Livestock Care Standards Board. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) pushed to put a Prop 2-like measure on Ohio's 2010 ballot, and ultimately, industry and HSUS compromised, allowing existing battery cages for egg laying hens to stay, but banning any new ones.
Simultaneously, Americans across the country have begun raising small flocks of chickens in their backyards. In addition to providing eggs, chickens eat bugs and kitchen scraps and provide valuable manure. Because many cities forbid homeowners from keeping backyard chickens, more and more cities are overturning their old laws to allow backyard chickens. Recently, Cedar Rapids, IA, Memphis, TN, and Beaverton, OR became the newest cities to allow backyard chickens. Laws typically allow flocks of three to six hens but no roosters. Seattle, WA, which already allowed chickens, just changed its laws to allow a maximum of eight hens, compared to only three before.
While these small steps chip away at industrial agriculture, none of them do away with or fundamentally change the food system that provides the majority of Americans with their food. Some place their biggest hopes in changing the system of farm subsidies, which allows factory farms and grain processors to buy commodities like corn and soy below the cost of production. The next opportunity to do this is in 2012, when Congress debates the farm bill once again. However, unless the composition of the agriculture committees change substantially in both the House and the Senate after the next election, a major change is unlikely.
Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. .