By Falon French

This summer we have witnessed numerous food recalls: Romaine and bagged salads were recalled for E. coli and Listeria contamination, alfalfa sprouts were recalled for Salmonella contamination, and even Spagetti-os have been recalled for underprocessing. In prior years, we have all heard about E. coli and Salmonella contamination of tomatoes, green onions, and other common vegetables. And now, more than 550 million eggs are being recalled for Salmonella contamination.

The story of the 2010 egg recall reads like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. At Wright County Eggs, where many of the recalled eggs were produced, 8-foot high piles of manure inside the laying house had pushed the doors ajar so that any wild animal could enter. Live and dead flies and maggots covered the floors in numbers reported to be “too high to count.” Dark liquid – likely manure – was seeping through the concrete floor to the soil outside. Open rodent holes could be found in the foundation, and live rats and mice were observed inside the laying house.

Let’s put aside the obvious animal cruelty issues for a moment and focus on the fact that our food was produced in these conditions. While we all hope that most laying houses are not run like this, the fact that this facility was not shut down before the contamination shows that FDA inspections to date have not caught all health violations that are occurring on CAFOs. Manure from CAFOs is spread on fields that grow crops without being treated or even tested for pathogens.

Our food network needs an overhaul. Livestock facilities should be inspected before the meat or eggs go to the market. Manure should be tested for pathogens before it is applied to crop fields. And bad actors, like the owner of Wright County Eggs, should not be allowed to sell contaminated food on the market!

Consumers who are worried about the safety of their food should buy local and buy organic. Join a community supported agriculture network, or visit the farmers market and local grocers, when you buy produce. Ask what fertilizers are used, and what pesticides are used. When you buy meat, eggs, and dairy products, always investigate the sources. Buy antibiotic-free and growth hormone-free products, and make sure that the animals are raised humanely, grass-fed, or free-range.

For a list of local producers, check out our sustainable agriculture resources page.

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