Des Moines Register Defames Iowa Egg Industry and NAEF Sets Record Straight

Dear Editor,

It is disheartening to read the defamation heaped on Iowa egg farmers by the Des Moines Editorial Board in today’s edition entitled “Egg Safety Rules Full of Cracks”. 


It’s apparent this board wants to tighten the reins on egg farmers with additional regulations when they are already complying with the most comprehensive of food safety requirements in the history of the egg industry.  This board cites the actions of the one egg farmer and his son who were criminally prosecuted as if what they did was a common practice for all egg farmers in the state.  This is untrue.  I was there during the Congressional oversight hearings of this father and son in Washington, DC and saw the pitiful example they portrayed of farming. 

Having been on the farms of many Iowa egg farmers, I know firsthand what this board does not understand, that the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) egg safety rule [21 C.F.R. part 118 ThePrevention of Salmonella Enteritidis in Shell Eggs During Production, Storage, and Transportation] went into effect on July 9, 2010 and is now fully operational.  I was personally involved as the industry representative in providing input into this rule when FDA first proposed it during the Clinton Administration.  The rule provided guidance on recordkeeping for (1) biosecurity (2) monitoring for flies and other vectors that may spread Salmonella, and (3) acceptable manure removal.  After a lifetime in the egg industry, and after personally visiting egg farmers on six continents, I was able to see the production practices in comparison to Iowa egg farmers.  The board should boast of the egg farmers accomplishments rather than label the egg farmers as complicit with that father and son who were recently prosecuted for circumventing the rule.  FDA has detailed in the rule procedures for a clean environment for the chickens.  FDA has detailed in the rule how to monitor the environment to determine if the cleaning protocols are being followed.  The sampling and testing procedures are thoroughly recorded for federal inspector oversight of the entire farm.  The rule cites the scientific articles that substantiate the protocols established for Iowa egg farmers.  So, instead of using one farmer to discredit an entire industry, this board should investigate the accomplishments of the Iowa egg farmers and assure consumers nationwide that Iowa egg farmers today are world leaders in producing a safe and wholesome egg.


NAEF Requests USDA Take Steps Now On Avian Influenza

April 15, 2015



Dr. Catherine Woteki

Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics

U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.

Washington, DC  20250


Dear Madam Secretary:


Thank you in behalf of the National Association of Egg Farmers, for your initiative in implementing the Twitter discussion tomorrow (#chickenchat2015) to provide help to farmers dealing with the growing threat of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI).  The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has reported outbreaks in 13 states including yesterday in a flock of turkeys in Buena Vista County Iowa.  This area is also home to many large commercial egg farms.


The poultry industry appreciates the fact that the USDA helps protect the health of the nation’s livestock and poultry by responding to major animal disease events such as this, helping to keep dangerous diseases from spreading as the #chickenchat2015 will help with suggestions, and reducing the economic impact of disease events.


We suggest USDA implement three important steps to further this mission:

1)Temporarily mandate that free-ranging poultry be broughtHPAI is spreading along the Central and Mississippi flyways due to waterfowl who can be asymptomatic but still carriers of the virus.  Poultry with outdoor access will only exacerbate the continued spread of this virus.

2)Provide indemnification for the whole flock and not just the survivingThis will incentivize farmers to come forward quickly when they suspect infection.

3)Publish a transcript of #chickenchat2015Many farmers are not on Twitter and will miss out on this important discussion for protecting their poultry.


Egg Farmers Set the Record Straight in Newspapers Across Nation

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (April 1, 2015) - The National Association of Egg Farmers (NAEF), representing egg farmers nationwide, says the media has been misinformed about egg production practices.  This has led some food companies to source their eggs from cage-free farmers believing it is more humane or better from a food safety perspective.  Today’s modern conventional cages used in producing eggs provide:

  1. 1)A humane way of producing eggs as evidenced by extensive scientific evidence.
  2. 2)Provide a safe and wholesome egg.
  3. 3)Provide a lower cost for a high quality protein product
  1. 1)A humane way of producing eggs

So here are the facts from today’s farmers concerning the welfare of the chicken. Every egg farmer knows that increasing the population size of a flock of chickens increases the stress on those chickens due to the establishment of a “pecking order” among the chickens.  The behavior inherent in chickens is to determine the social standing of the individual hens through “pecking” each other.  The individual chicken lower in the social order is pecked the most.  When chickens are housed in conventional cages with 6 chickens, the establishment of this pecking order is minimized compared to upwards of 60 chickens in the California-style enhanced, colony cages, and even more so in an aviary (cage-free chickens) with thousands of chickens.  

The Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply, a cooperative effort of animal scientists investigating the published research concluded recently that different housing systems (cage-free, enhanced colony cages, and the conventional cages used today by nine-five percent of egg farmers) are not significantly different in the stress among the chickens.  This compliments earlier findings by The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in 2010 which released a report on different housing systems.  The report concluded consumers need to balance the hen’s freedom against exposure to potential hazards such as disease vectors and the cannibalism caused by pecking. Certainly cannibalism and pecking are welfare issues, and in conventional cages where the number of chickens is minimized, these concerns are reduced compared to the enhanced, colony cages or aviaries. 


Dr. Kenneth Anderson, a preeminent Poultry Extension Specialist at NC State University, presented his research findings to the egg industry at a conference in March 2010 where he noted that chickens reared in conventional cages had:

  1. 1)significantly greater numbers of Grade A eggs,
  2. 2)significantly greater numbers of total eggs produced,  
  3. 3)significantly better feed conversion rates (meaning a lower carbon footprint),  
  4. 4)better immune response (meaning better able to resist disease). 

Certainly these are indicators of a healthier chicken and thus better welfare.

  1. 2)Provide a safe and wholesome egg

In considering food safety, eggs laid on the floor in an aviary system have more pathogenic bacteria from contact with manure.  This is virtually eliminated in conventional cages where the birds stand on a wire and the manure falls below the cages and away from the eggs. As published in Food Control [47 (2015) 161-165] entitled "Microbiological Contamination of Shell Eggs Produced in Conventional [battery cages] and Free-Range" the authors from Clemson University reported Enterobacteriacea on egg shell surfaces were 90% greater in free-range over battery cages (conventional cages). Salmonella for free-range was 2.36% and 0 for battery while Campylobacter for free-range was 26.1% compared to 7.4% for battery eggs.

Enter now the California egg law (AB1437) that went into effect January 1, 2015.  Californians can impose whatever regulations they so choose on the farmers in their state, but the law is imposing production standards on all eggs sold in the state including those produced in other states.  Since 1 out of every 8 eggs consumed are eaten in California, this standard imposes restrictions that infringe on article 1, section 8, clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution whereby the authority to regulate commerce is granted the U.S. Congress.  Attorneys General from Missouri, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Alabama, and Nebraska along with the Iowa Governor have filed an appeal to their earlier lawsuit against the California egg law that was dismissed by a California District Judge. Others too have weighed in with Amicus briefs filed by the Utah Attorney General and the American Farm Bureau Federation who support the Attorneys General in seeking an appeal. 

Congress has also engaged with legislation filed in February 2015 by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) "Protect Interstate Commerce Act" (HR687) specifically re-stating that Congress has the authority to regulate commerce with agricultural products among the states.

  1. 3)Provide a lower cost for a high quality protein product

Lastly, consumers benefit from conventional caged egg production with a lower cost for a high quality protein product.  The Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply reported recently the cage-free eggs (aviaries) were thirty-six percent more expensive that conventional caged eggs and enhanced colony caged eggs were thirteen percent more expensive.  When California implemented it egg law this past January, the price difference between the wholesale price of eggs in the state compared to the Midwest peaked at $2.00 a dozen more.  Retail prices of a dozen eggs were reported in San Francisco to reach $6.00 per dozen.  How do those prices benefit a low income family trying to make ends meet?

Over the past five decades of improving the welfare of the chicken and improving the food safety of shell eggs with today’s conventional cages, unfortunately companies and misinformed readers believe it is better to return to the old days when eggs were laid near manure or the chicken suffered from the pecking order. This is false and harms both the chicken and the consumer.

Today’s egg farmer, using conventional cage systems, is producing a safe and wholesome egg while providing for the needs of each chicken.

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