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News and analysis on the global poultry
and animal feed industries.
on September 20, 2010

Plenty of blame to be shared in egg recall

United Egg Producers, American Egg Board and government agencies all contributed to problem

The significance of the 2010 egg recall is now becoming apparent. The short-term impact relates to an acute drop in consumption with a correspondingly precipitous decline in the average August Urner Barry price from 113 cents per dozen to the mid-70s by the second week in September. Contrast this value with a projected 117 cents for the month. Assuming that the generic shell-egg segment of the industry collectively experienced a decline of 40 cents per dozen, the loss in revenue for September alone would amount to $125 million assuming 162 million hens* with a 75% hen-to-pack yield.

The alleged circumstances, deficiencies and deviations from what could be regarded as prudent standards of operation by the management and ownership of the affected complexes and their affiliates are being emblazoned across newspapers in the U.S. fueling concern over the safety of our product. Premature releases of preliminary findings by the FDA are adding to the rejection of shell eggs by domestic and food service users.

There is plenty of blame to go around. To name but a few:

  • The owner and management of the implicated complexes who allegedly operated with complete disregard for accepted standards of prevention and detection of SE;
  • The UEP and its directors for promoting its 5-Star Total Quality Assurance Food Safety Program, which was patently inferior to detect SE compared to the long-standing California and Pennsylvania EQAPs and the program initiated by the major producer of nationally distributed shell eggs;
  • The UEP for not acting forcefully and expeditiously to publicly disassociate its constituency of responsible producers representing 97% of production capacity from the alleged and widely publicized practices on the affected complexes;
  • The UEP and its public relations advisors for mounting a lackluster campaign, which incorporated a blame-the-victim approach contrary to accepted principles of crisis control;
  • The AEB for not acting quickly and authoritatively, applying its extensive resources to dispel concern among consumers in the face of negative publicity;
  • The FMI in mandating an SQF program, which omitted the basic requirement that certified plants only pack eggs from flocks demonstrated to be free of SE, applying a comprehensive monitoring protocol;
  • Purchasers of nest-run eggs from the affected complexes who repacked and distributed product without enquiring as to the SE status of supply flocks;
  • The major chains and brokers who have imposed pressure on producers to supply eggs at the lowest cost, depriving the industry of the margins which would allow investment in effective biosecurity, SE vaccination, rodent control and monitoring; and
  • The federal authorities for not coordinating their resources to provide the industry, initially with guidance and then successively comprehensive suppression and eradication programs. What have the USDA-AMS, USDA-ARS, USDA-FSIS or the FDA and their paymasters (Congress) contributed to preventing the SE crisis during the last two decades?

Am I bitter? Yes. Disappointed? Yes. A lot of good, honest and hardworking people, many of whom are friends and associates, will suffer from the acts of omission and commission, which contributed to the current situation. All that I can hope is that reason will prevail and that we will collectively develop a new attitude toward production of a quality product with inherent nutritional attributes for the benefit of our consumers and stakeholders.

Contrary opinions and rebuttals are welcome.

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