Congress and the executive branch of government are dealing with at least three issues that affect the chicken industry – ranging in impact from very general to very specific. I’m thinking of global warming, free trade and hatching eggs.

The jury is still out on how much warming has really occurred and to what degree climate change is driven by human activity, especially the burning of carbon-based fuels.

Huge cost for ‘cap and trade’

Of more immediate importance is the question is whether the United States should adopt a hugely expensive, highly intrusive “cap and trade” system to begin to ratchet down the use of coal, oil and natural gas – long before any practical alternatives are in place. The costs of “cap and trade” would be enormous but the benefits slight. The Heritage Foundation estimates the bill would raise energy prices by 55% to 90%. Yet, the program would supposedly reduce the expected temperatures by only about one-tenth of one degree Celsius. You wouldn’t even notice.

Surely, practical ways can be found to reduce our society’s “carbon footprint.” President Obama’s newfound support for nuclear power is a step in that direction. But to shackle the entire economy with the chains of “cap and trade” to achieve a trivial improvement in temperature is taking environmental zeal to absurd lengths. If Congress actually approves cap and trade as opposed to a pared-down climate change bill, my guess is that many of its members won’t be back for the next session – and their replacements will repeal it.

Free trade and exports

Free trade, fortunately, has nothing to do with “cap and trade.” Our country is the largest player in world commerce and benefits greatly from freer and expanded trade. But free trade is a tough sell in a Democratic-majority Congress because labor unions are generally opposed. Bush-era agreements with Panama, South Korea, and Colombia have been languishing in Congress. NCC recently joined a large number of food, feed and agricultural associations urging Congress to approve these agreements.

President Obama has said his goal is to double U.S. exports within five years. The free trade agreements would be a good place to start.

Hatching eggs caught in FDA rule

Lastly, NCC is trying to undo an odd thing done recently by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) when it released the final version of a rule to control Salmonella enteritidis in shell eggs, which will become effective July 9. One of the key provisions is to require refrigeration of eggs within 36 hours of lay.

The preliminary version released in 2004 did not apply to broiler hatching eggs, some of which are sent to egg breakers for use in food products if they are not needed for hatching. This was reasonable because breakers pasteurize egg products to achieve a 99.999 reduction percent in salmonella – the same as required for table eggs. But when the final rule came out last year, it unexpectedly required hatching eggs to be refrigerated.

Hatching eggs don’t need to be refrigerated, and in fact cannot be chilled to 45 degrees and still be viable for incubation and hatching. Chicken companies rarely know as soon as 36 hours after lay if eggs will go to incubation or to breaking. By including hatching eggs in the rule, FDA would essentially keep them out of the human food channel.

We believe FDA was misinformed about the handling and use of hatching eggs. We have filed a petition seeking reconsideration of the refrigeration requirement. Hopefully, FDA will consider the facts we have presented and continue to allow hatching eggs to qualify for the breaker market.