THE BLOG

Iowa's Secretary of Ag Brags About Iowa's Eggs

08/27/2010 05:50 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Bill Northey, Iowa's secretary of agriculture, is so darn proud of his state's capacity to crank out factory farmed eggs that he had to make a YouTube video to boast about it. From January 14, 2010:

We're not only number one in corn, soybean, and hog production, we're also number one in egg production, in this state. In fact, we have one farm up in north central Iowa that produces all the eggs for all the McDonald's west of the Mississippi, including Hawaii and Guam.

This is one farm that has two and a half million layers that produce a million eggs a day for the Egg McMuffins, the breakfast burritos, and a million eggs a day for the liquid eggs, and that one farm produces all the eggs.

We have two and a half million layers at that farm, we have 57 and a half million other layers in this state. We have a huge number of folks who depend on Iowa not only for our eggs, but for their pork, their beef, and their dairy products. We do a great job of producing food not only for Iowans, but for folks all over the world.

A friend of mine was mocking me and my husband just two weeks ago for spending $7 for a carton of eggs from a local farmer. "Someone should do a reality show about you guys, no one would believe it."

This friend makes a comfortable living and loves to shop. If our eggs came in a Burberry plaid, or the carton bore a Coach logo, she'd recognize them as a luxury good, a limited edition that (alas) only an elite few can afford.

But, as with so many relatively affluent folks, her taste for quality doesn't extend to her grocery list. I explained that you can tell how nutritionally rich a pastured egg is by the lovely deep saffron yellow of its yolk, whereas the tell-tale pale yolk of a factory farmed egg looks as sickly as the setting in which it's hatched.

I noted that the certified organic, pasture raised eggs we get from Gray Horse Farm are not only humanely raised but infinitely tastier and fresher than the cheap-o eggs she buys at Stop and Shop. The philosophy of Terry and Lisa Kilmer, the farmers who sell me my $7 eggs, is simply "to raise food as it was designed to be raised. Untamed, pastured, untouched by scientists and healthy, not just for us, but for the animals as well."

"Oh, but I wouldn't know the difference," my otherwise sophisticated friend protested. And most Americans would probably say the same thing. Until, that is, they find themselves doubled over with food poisoning.

Isn't it kind of a travesty that safe, nutritious, humanely raised eggs are the exception, and not the standard? Why do less affluent folks have to get their eggs from producers like Wright County Egg Farm, which has been racking up "health, safety, immigration and environmental violations" for decades and is considered a "habitual violator" in Iowa, as CBS reports?

Investigators have traced the salmonella to Wright County Egg's feed mill, which was neither licensed nor inspected, even though it's one of the largest feed mills in the state. Jack DeCoster, Wright County Egg's owner, has been ordered to testify in a hearing on September 14th before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

Bill Northey's department granted Wright County Egg's feed mill an exemption intended for farmers who make feed for their own livestock. This exemption is intended to benefit 'private farmers,' according to Iowa's Senator Gene Fraise, not 'big corporations.'

Not even big corporations that churn out gazillions of eggs under bucolic brand names like Wholesome Farms and Sunny Meadow. Does Bill Northey still believe that Iowa's mega egg producers are doing such a bang-up job feeding the country?

We keep hearing about how "new" egg industry regulations that have just been implemented might well have prevented this outbreak. What's been less widely reported is that these regulations aren't really "new," at all--they were proposed by Bill Clinton in 1999. Clinton's stated goal was to eliminate salmonella outbreaks by 2010.

So what happened? The egg industry steadfastly fought all efforts to step up government oversight, and anti-regulation Republicans allowed the proposal to languish for nearly a decade.

Evidently, food safety is for socialists. Or, to put it another way, Republicans are willing to literally make you sick, if it serves the interests of their corporate constituents.