What You Need to Know About the Eggs You Eat

brown eggs If you’ve been watching the news lately there’s no doubt you’ve heard about the massive egg recall. To date there are 1,300 cases of salmonella linked to tainted eggs from two farms in Iowa, with a third rumored to also be involved.

And while it may appear that two farms in Iowa out of the thousands of farms producing eggs nationwide don’t account for a large percentage of farms, the problem with tainted eggs and sickness is much bigger.

Know About the Eggs

According to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC,) poultry is the number one cause of food poisoning in the United States. Eggs are the number one source for dangerous salmonella. And salmonella is the leading culprit for food poisoning related deaths in the U.S. which come in yearly around 500 deaths.

In the United States alone we spend an estimated $150 billion dollars a year on foodborne illness resulting in 15,000 yearly hospitalizations. If you survive difficult salmonella you’ll have experienced at least one, but most likely all, of the following symptoms:

Symptoms of Salmonella

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Headaches
  • Body aches
  • Stomach Cramps
  • Fever
  • Blood in stool

Not a pretty picture and one that can leave you down and out for much longer than you may imagine. Salmonella can have long lasting health implications too. Chronic arthritic joint inflammation in adults and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in children have both been known to persist well after the acute case of salmonella has passed.

Salmonella is a serious health risk. The United States own Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns,

“Egg associated illness caused by salmonella is a serious public health problem.”

Maybe you think that to avoid salmonella you’ll be sure to cook your eggs? Well think again. According to the America Egg Board salmonella can easily survive in eggs that are cooked sunny side up, over easy, and even scrambling eggs.

Salmonella can infect the ovaries of sick hens and the eggs can actually come with salmonella pre-packaged inside ripe for your consumption.

It’s time to think carefully about the eggs you choose to consume and feed to your family.

Free Range Eggs 98% Less Likely to Carry Salmonella

When it comes to salmonella and eggs, the living conditions of the hens play a huge part. The standard living conditions (if you want to call it living) of hens in the United States that are being raised for their meat or eggs are in battery cages. According The Humane Society of the United States, 95% of hens in the U.S. live in these disease producing battery cages.

Battery cages are by no means a pretty site. And remember 98% of the eggs in the U.S. come from hens living in the following conditions.

Typical Battery Cages for Hens

  • 67 square inches of space per hen
  • Vertical cages piled up to 8 levels high
  • Manure pits often 4 to 8 feet deep
  • Infestation of flies, maggots, and other disease carrying insects
  • Infestation of rodents

In these cages the hens are unable to engage in their natural, instinctual behaviors such as nesting, dust bathing, perching and more. In fact the amount of hens jammed into these small spaces prohibits the abused birds from doing any of the following:

Hens in Battery Cages Cannot:

  • Lie Down
  • Stand Up
  • Stretch
  • Turn
  • Flap Wings
  • Groom selves

So often these cramped, unnatural living conditions cause such an enormous amount of stress and strain on the helpless animals they resort to previously unheard of behaviors. From plucking each other’s feathers out to cannibalism, these living conditions push the unhealthy and unhappy chickens beyond their limit.

The cannibalism and plucking each other – at times to death – is so common that it is industry standard practice to burn, cut, or laser off the beaks of these helpless hens. A painful, debilitating, and abusive process I can’t support. Once you know the facts, I doubt anyone will want to buy eggs from hens raised in these conditions again.

In addition many of these farms engage in molting. This is the process by which hens are starved, almost to death, to increase their egg production.

As you can clearly see there are a lot of problems going on here. It’s not just an unbelievably cruel way for any living thing to exist, the rate of disease amongst hens in battery cages is massive and a serious threat to the public’s health.

It’s Not Just Salmonella to Fear

While salmonella is a serious health threat, hens raised in this way that escape dangerous salmonella have a host of other health problems. When we buy and consume the eggs of these hens, the health problems are passed onto us.

Every year in the United States these battery caged hens are fed billions of pounds of antibiotics to counteract the contaminated and stressful living conditions (The Humane Society of the United States Report: Food Safety and Cage Egg Production.)

The regular use of these antibiotics has been condemned by hundreds of health organization nationwide including The American Medical Association, The American Public Health Association, The Infectious Disease Society of America, and The American Academy of Pediatrics.

The eggs produced by these hens contain traces of antibiotics which in turn we consume. Could this be part of the problem with the new age of antibiotic resistant diseases?

In addition, many of these poor hens are fed what’s called ‘slaughterhouse waste.’ (And by the way, this is a legal practice in the United States despite the World Health Organization recommended guidelines to prevent outbreaks of deadly diseases such as mad cow disease.)

Slaughterhouse waste includes animals that have been slaughtered due to sickness, diseases, or being crippled. It also includes blood, fecal matter, and whatever else is in the ‘waste’ of the facility. Is this really what you want to eat or feed to your family? I know I don’t.

Free Range Eggs vs. Battery Cage Eggs

When it comes to quality of life, there’s just no comparison between the life of free range hens and that of battery cage hens. Free range hens are free to wander, nest, perch, groom themselves, and generally live a happy life engaging in their natural behaviors the way God intended.

This higher quality of life shows up in the eggs too. The nutritional value of free range eggs has been shown time and time again to be much higher than battery cage eggs.

According to a study by Mother Earth News in 2007 (conducted by an independent and accredited Portland, Oregon based lab) free range eggs are much healthier – and not just because you won’t get salmonella or unwanted antibiotics when you eat them. As compared with battery cage eggs, the eggs of free range hens contain the following:

Free Range Eggs Contain:

  • 1/3 less cholesterol
  • ¼ less saturated fat
  • 2/3 more Vitamin A
  • 2 times more Omega-3
  • 3 times more Vitamin E
  • 7 times more beta carotene

It’s clear that free range eggs are much better than battery cage eggs for numerous reasons – really there’s just no comparison.

It’s important to distinguish between the various egg labels that can often mislead the consumer.

Free Range, Organic, Cage Free – Know Your Egg Labels

Despite what you may think, just because the egg label says ‘cage free’ doesn’t mean it’s being treated humanely or raised in healthier living conditions.

According to the Humane Society these labels can be confusing and often deceiving for consumers. Today there are no guidelines for how long the hens are outside, what they are fed (with the exception of organic), and they are still allowed to have their beaks cut or burned off and forced molting is permitted.

The guidelines for these facilities are very limited at best. To clearly understand what each of the labels on egg cartons means visit the Humane Society page explaining in detail each label.

When it comes to eggs, this is once again a case where buying local is important, often vital, to protecting your health and promoting the fair treatment of farm animals. Finding a farmer in your local community where you can visit the farm and buy the eggs fresh directly from him is the best way to ensure you are getting high quality eggs. If this isn’t possible for you, look for free range, organic eggs at your local supermarket or health food store.

Eggs are a great source of nutrients and delicious to eat if they’ve been raised properly, as Mother Nature intended. For your own health and the welfare of the hens, don’t settle for battery cage eggs.

Sources

The Humane Society (2010)

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (2010)

Mother Earth News (2007)

Organic Consumers Association (2003)

Wageningen University (2009)

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (2000)

The Humane Society (2009)


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