08/27/2010 05:27 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Rotten Inside and Out


The recent recall of half a billion eggs contaminated with salmonella is another reminder about how harmful industrial animal farming is. Thousands of consumers have been sickened, experiencing diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever, and while no deaths have been reported, salmonella can be life-threatening, especially to people with weakened immune systems.

Hopefully the attention garnered by this recall will help raise awareness about the bigger issue of factory farming and food related illnesses in our country. Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control estimate that "foodborne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year." We cannot expect healthful, wholesome food to come from a rotten system where living, feeling animals are treated like commodities.

Roughly 95% of the eggs sold in the U.S. come from hens in battery cages - small wire enclosures that are lined up in rows, stacked in tiers in huge factory farm warehouses. A single building can hold more than 100,000 birds, who are packed so tightly that they cannot even stretch their wings. The hens are unable to engage in basic natural behaviors and suffer both physical and psychological disorders, and just like other animals (including humans) who are subjected to extreme stress, they are more susceptible to disease.

Besides being denied a healthy environment, egg laying hens are also denied wholesome food. Agribusiness is always looking to save on feed costs because it is among their largest expenses. One way to do so is to feed hens the bare minimum, as an agricultural publication advises "...a hen consuming less feed is more efficient and profitable." Another way is to add waste and slaughterhouse by-products, including chicken parts, to the hens' feed. Such feedstuffs may be cheaper, but they can also increase the risk of salmonella and other diseases.

Agribusiness seeks to increase profitability, and that often means cutting corners and passing costs onto others. Whether its tax payers stuck with cleaning up environmental pollution, neighbors of factory farms whose property values are diminished, or consumers whose health and well being is jeopardized, factory farms should be made liable. Those who were made ill and harmed by these contaminated eggs should be able to recuperate their losses.

The massive egg recall we see in the news today is the result of a factory farming system that is rotten through and through. In the absence of a major overhaul, and unless agribusiness is made responsible for the negative consequences of its actions, we will likely see similar contamination and recalls in the future, and animals and people will continue to suffer needlessly.