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September 22, 2010

Impact of Factory Farming, Food Choices Again In Focus

Today, the House Energy and Commerce Committee conducted a hearing on this summer’s massive egg recall, and witnesses included the owners of the factory farms that spawned the Salmonella crisis and a couple of the downstream victims—consumers who ate foods containing eggs contaminated with Salmonella and nearly died. The testimony of some of the victims was chilling, and it even prompted one congressman, Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, to declare he’s now switching to cage-free eggs.

Egg-laying hens confined in battery cages at Iowa egg factory farm
The HSUS

He’s got the right instinct. The central problem is not that there were a couple of reckless factory farm operators, though it’s certainly true that Jack DeCoster, owner of one of the two farms linked to the Salmonella outbreak, has had a history of cutting corners at his egg farms across the country. It’s really a systemic problem—with the industry as a whole adopting battery cage confinement systems that victimize every creature confined in these cages and create an overcrowded, unhealthy environment that is high-risk for the spread of pathogens like Salmonella.

We don’t just need to wash eggs better, or only make sure rodents haven’t colonized these places or that dead birds are removed from cages. We need to get rid of the cages and give animals more space. By giving them more space, we are better to the animals and reduce excessively high stocking densities that are among the root causes of the food safety problems, too.

And the evidence linking cages to unsanitary and inhumane conditions is hardly new. In fact, The HSUS’s investigation of Iowa egg factories earlier this year found nearly identical conditions to those found during the FDA’s inspection of the companies responsible for the current recall.

Our diet matters. We vote for or against cruelty, and for or against food safety, with our own food choices every day. That’s why I was also struck by the comments of former President Bill Clinton, who has adopted a nearly vegan diet. He told Wolf Blitzer of CNN that he’s now eating a plant-based diet, that he’s lost 24 pounds since he started it, and that’s he’s studied the issue very carefully, reading the works of Drs. Dean Ornish, Colin Campbell, and others. He’s said he feels like he’s now part of the experiment to prove that eating a plant-based diet is a way to improve the functioning of arteries and to deal with problems of cholesterol and fat.

When we are conscious eaters, we can help animals, protect the environment, enhance food safety, and protect our own health. We have an opportunity to live a healthy life and create the society we want through our actions, and one of the best opportunities is with our food choices every day.

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