The FDA in a surprise move indicated that surplus broiler hatching eggs could not be sold to breakers. The National Chicken Council (NCC), the industry body representing 95% of U.S. broiler producers, has petitioned the FDA to rescind the intended provision of the Final Rule preventing integrators selling surplus or non-settable hatching eggs into the breaker market.

According to the NCC, 367 million surplus hatching eggs worth $5 million were sold to breakers in 2009. This represents 16 cents per dozen for eggs which averaged over 65 grams, an absolute bargain for breakers. In evaluating this figure, based on approximately 165 million broilers processed per week with 95% livability, 80% hatchability and 3% breakable rejects the broiler industry in all probability transfers 330 million eggs or nearly 28 million dozen to breakers each year. If the unit value approaches a more realistic 35 cents per dozen the loss to the broiler industry would actually approach $10 million annually.

As with many of the decisions made by FDA with regard to the Final Rule to suppress Salmonella enteritidis (SE) infection in consumers, this ban makes absolutely no sense.

According to industry sources a respondent at a public meeting indicated that broiler eggs are held at 65F in coolers on production farms and hatcheries before setting. This is necessary since this temperature will maintain fertility. Holding eggs at 45F for as little as 2 hours at any time will effectively render eggs infertile. The reason for low temperature storage of table eggs is to inhibit multiplication of SE which may have been deposited in the albumen by trans-ovarian or trans-oviductal infection. Although SE is occasionally isolated from broilers during processing, this infection in broiler parent breeders does not appear to be a problem in the broiler industry.

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Notwithstanding the remote possibility of SE infection in some eggs, the fact that they will be subjected to breaking and pasteurization completely negates the FDA justification. If eggs were marketed for table consumption, the FDA may have reason to demand compliance with all requirements of the Final Rule including comprehensive flock testing and a 45F storage temperature. As it stands the FDA is illogical in its decision and imposition of the requirement would impose a substantial cost on the broiler industry and deprive the food processors and indirectly, consumers of close to 17,000 tons of product containing over 3,000 tons of balanced protein. If there were the slightest risk to the public the FDA action might be justified.

This intended ban appears to be an aberrant decision made by uninformed and traditionally anonymous officials. Perhaps if there were greater transparency in rule making and the individual officials concerned would be required to personally justify their decisions there would be more thought in issuing directives.

Where is the state-of-the–art application of effective risk analysis in developing policies which affect the disposition of food resources and the livelihood of stakeholders throughout the chain of production through consumption? This intended action strengthens the widely held presumption that the FDA is a defective agency.