The current recall of more than a half billion eggs is the largest U.S. food recall since The Humane Society of the United States' investigation of rampant cruelty at a California dairy cow slaughter plant triggered the recall of 143 million pounds of meat in 2008. Both events vividly illustrate how the mistreatment of animals can have serious public health implications.
Our 2008 investigation documented "downed" cattle, those too sick or disabled to stand or walk, being routinely beaten, dragged with chains, shocked with electric prods, and pushed by forklifts in efforts to move them to slaughter, prompting President Obama to impose a ban on allowing adult downer cattle into the human food supply.
A caged hen at an Iowa egg factory farm.
Our investigations into egg factory farms in Iowa earlier this year also revealed appalling animal abuse and cruel industry-wide practices that put consumers at risk. The lifelong extreme confinement of laying hens in tiny cages is not just inhumane (PDF), it's been linked to human disease. Eggs from caged birds have been found to be significantly more likely (PDF) to pose a Salmonella threat than cage-free eggs. You can see even more of the evidence at our site humanesociety.org/salmonella.
There used to be tobacco industry scientists who said the evidence about cigarettes and cancer was inconclusive, and now we have egg industry scientists trying to muddy waters about the industry's mistreatment of birds increasing Salmonella risk.
But the evidence (PDF) is clear: Each of the nine studies published in the last five years comparing Salmonella rates in cage and cage-free egg operations found higher rates in the cage confinement facilities. It stands to reason that keeping hens in severely overcrowded cages stresses the birds and creates conditions that allow for the rapid transfer of pathogens between the confined animals.
Every one of the hundreds of millions of eggs now being recalled for Salmonella came from hens confined in cages. Iowa is the nation's top egg producing state, and the HSUS is calling on industry leaders to end the use of battery cages. It's time for the egg industry to follow the lead of states like California and Michigan in phasing out cages that threaten animal welfare and human health.
This post originally appeared on Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.