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on June 11, 2010

Distortion of reality by Columbus Dispatch

Newspaper reporter misconstrues salmonella statistics

In light of this edition of Egg Industry concerning flock health, it appears that journalist Alan Johnson of The Columbus Dispatch has been seriously misled by the proponents of banning cages in the state of Ohio. In a biased report which appeared in the May 30 edition of his newspaper, Johnson distorts statistics and plays fast and loose confusing salmonellosis as a generic infection with egg-borne Salmonella enteritidis (SE) as a specific condition. It is sheer sophistry to cite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures of 76 million food-borne illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths in the context of commercial egg production in Ohio.

Obviously primed by Dr. Michael Greger, the medical expert advising the HSUS, Johnson has merely reproduced questionable data in the public domain. Johnson either failed to realize or report that egg-borne salmonellosis is responsible for less than 30 outbreaks in the U.S. annually among a population of over 300 million consumers supplied by 275 million caged hens.

A second distortion is the misquotation that “as many as 350,000 of 7 billion eggs produced in Ohio each year may be contaminated with salmonella”. This figure is in all probability extrapolated from the “one in every 20,000 eggs” which was derived in the late 1980s and early 1990s when SE was more prevalent and flocks were not subjected to either vaccination or monitoring. The probability of contracting SE by consuming eggs from a flock which is shown to be free of infection is absolutely zero. Period. What is important is the actual number of infected flocks among our extensive population.

As a practicing specialist in poultry medicine I am aware that the prevalence rate of SE in large commercial complexes in Ohio is extremely low. One must also distinguish between environmental contamination which usually but not invariably denotes intestinal colonization and flocks which contain individual hens with systemic (organ) infection. There is a far lower probability of vertical infection in 2010 from flocks which are housed in facilities shown to be contaminated with SE, based on environmental swabs, than in the 1980s. This is based on epidemiologically sound precautionary measures including effective vaccination of flocks, a robust cold chain from production through to sale and the use of pasteurized egg liquid by food service and catering operations.

It is ironic that the HSUS will play the food safety card in promoting their November 2010 ballot initiative as this was the counter-argument advanced by the opponents of California Proposition 2. Invoking SE to support either standpoint is scientifically untenable. It is more egregious when distortions are used to misinform and sway the emotions of voters.

The Ohio Poultry Association and the Ohio Farm Bureau would be well advised to gather scientific evidence and retain advisors and spokespersons who can counter the misleading, epidemiologically unsustainable and blatantly propagandistic contentions of HSUS with regard to SE as an alleged “welfare” consideration.

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