Letters to the Editor Des Moines Register: In the October 14th issue of the Des Moines Register is an excoriating attack on Iowa lawmakers and Governor Terry Branstad in “Our Misplaced Priorities” by Rekhu Basu.
She used the 2010 Salmonella outbreak attributed to Wright County Eggs as her platform, but no Iowa lawmakers or any state or federal agency condoned the mismanagement by Jack and Peter DeCoster at that Congressional hearing in 2010. I was there at that hearing. Was Ms. Basu there? Her criticism was also leveled at the Governor for participating with 5 other state Attorneys General in challenging the California egg law restricting the interstate commerce of eggs. Governor Branstad is to be commended for his leadership. Too often political leaders lead from behind after reading the polls. Governor Branstad, a true leader, showed he leads in the front by knowing the issue and the science behind Iowa’s egg production standards.
Ms. Basu wants Iowa to be “championing its commitment to a clean environment and the health of its residents.” The Iowa egg industry is already doing that in following the FDA’s food safety standards [21 CFR Part 118]. Interestingly, those federal standards say states may not require “standards of quality condition that are different from or in addition to federal requirements.” Certainly in Ms. Basu’s defense of the California standards [Title 3 Section 1350] are “in addition to.” Governor Branstad was championing the federal standards in support of the Iowa egg industry.
So, what are the facts behind the eggs produced in Iowa for which Governor Branstad supports. Chickens in Iowa’s conventional cages produce more eggs, larger eggs, better grade eggs, and waste less feed than chickens running loose on the farm 1. Moving from an Iowa conventional cage to a non-cage system increases the likelihood of microbiological contamination of internal contents with Salmonella enterica serovar Enteritidis or other pathogens, or chemical contamination with dioxins in the soil, pesticides, or heavy metals 2. Eggs from caged facilities have a 25 per cent smaller carbon footprint (2.2 kg of carbon equivalent per kilo of eggs compared to 2.75 kg of CO2e per kilo of eggs for free-range 3. The Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply, a group of animal welfare specialists in the United States who know and understand poultry production, recently reviewed 5 areas related to housing hens in addition to the welfare of the chicken and made observations for conventional cages, enriched cages, or aviary (cage-free) systems 4. Those areas are; 1) health and welfare, 2) environmental impact, 3) economics, 4) food safety, 5) worker health and safety.
1. Health, well-being
Hens in the aviary and enriched systems had a higher incidence of keel bone deviations and/or fractures than hens in the conventional system.
2. Environmental impact
Regarding indoor air quality, the daily mean ammonia concentrations were less than 15 parts per million in both conventional and enriched cage houses throughout the monitoring period, but higher ammonia concentrations in the aviary house exceeded 25 ppm. Further, particulate matter (PM) concentrations in the aviary house were roughly 8-10 times those in the conventional system.
Farm costs for eggs were highest for eggs produced in the aviary system, followed by those from enriched housing and then conventional housing. In total it was 36% more expensive to produce eggs in the aviary system than the conventional system, while the enriched system was 13% more expensive than conventional cages.
4. Food safety
The forage area of the aviary system and scratch pads of the enriched colonies had the highest levels of total aerobes and coliforms, while eggs from the aviary floor had the highest total aerobes and coliform levels.
5. Worker health, safety
Sampling from personal exposure monitors worn by workers while in the hen houses found that inhalable particle and PM 2.5 concentrations, as well as endotoxins, were significantly higher in the aviary system compared to those in the conventional and enriched systems, which were not statistically different from each other. Worker ergonomics were also considered, with a number of tasks standing out as possible risks. Gathering the eggs birds had laid on the floor in the aviary system was found to be another issue for worker ergonomics as it warranted extreme body positions, including squatting for an extended period of time. Crawling and lying on the floor to collect floor eggs also exposed employees to potential respiratory hazards.
1 Anderson, Kenneth, NC State University, 2010
2 Holt, Peter, USDA/ARS Egg Safety and Quality Research Unit, Athens, GA
3 de Boer, Impke, Wageningen University, Netherlands, 2010