As the August 13 recall of eggs from Wright County Egg Farm expands, it continues to show us all how fragile our nation’s food supply is while highlighting the risks we run by concentrating our egg production in vast warehouses. A single group of battery caged hens appears to be affecting millions of people in the West and Midwest. Another day, another big food recall—it’s not a surprise—but it is a good example of how our food system fails us in almost every way. Salmonella is an unintended consequence of industrialized food production. No one set out to design a system that promotes disease; they just wanted to produce cheap food. However, it is a biological fact that if you keep animals in large numbers in a confined environment then pests and diseases will inevitably spread. Recent research has shown a direct correlation between flock size and confinement and the presence of salmonella. The bigger the flock and the more confined, the greater the risk of infection.
According to LancasterOnline.com’s Mary Beth Schweigert, lack of oversight in National Organic Program has created a “chasm between consumer expectations and actual industry practices.” Ms. Schweigert notes the challenges that the NOP, now in its twelfth year, faces in terms of its dual mission to protect agriculture while simultaneously protecting the consumer.
The NOP has drawn significant criticism on its lax pasture requirements – 80,000 public comments to be exact. However, even adequate standards are only as good as the enforcement behind them. Schweigert reports a startlingly low number of citations in the first seven years of the program – only $20,000 for three fraudulent operators in a $23 billion U.S. organic food industry.
National Organic Coalition (an industry watchdog group) policy coordinator Liana Hoodes responded to this issue, explaining that strong national organic regulations are worthless without consistent oversight and enforcement. She added, “It will either clean up its act or get surpassed by many other labels.”