More egg recalls could be ahead, FDA chief says

More egg recalls could be ahead, FDA chief says
# 23 August 2010 22:57 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. The recall of more than half a billion eggs over the past two weeks is the "largest such egg recall in recent history" and the Food and Drug Administration "may need to continue with smaller subrecalls," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said on CNN’s "American Morning" on Monday, APA reports quoting CNN.
"We have a very complicated network of food distribution in this country," Hamburg said. "You start with a couple of farms in Iowa and you can get nationwide exposure."
Hillandale Farms of Iowa announced Friday it was recalling more than 170 million eggs. Another 380 million have been recalled by another Iowa producer, Wright County Egg, after the FDA linked the eggs to an outbreak of salmonella that has sickened hundreds of people nationwide.
The agency was talking with the two egg producers to gain access to their premises to look around and examine their records. "We’re continuing to investigate to make sure that we fully understand the source of the contamination," Hamburg said.
On Sunday, she said the companies involved in the recall fell short of safety standards at their farms.
"There’s no question these farms involved in the recall were not operating with the standards of practice we consider responsible," she said.
"About 1,000" people have been sickened by the salmonella outbreak that federal regulators have traced back to the two Iowa egg producers, Hamburg said. One of those companies said it is "devastated" by the possible connection between its product and salmonella.
"We are devastated that our eggs have been implicated in making people sick," Hillandale Farms, one of the largest U.S. producers, said in a statement issued Sunday. "We have never had a product recall in our 45-year history, and it flies in the face of our mission to provide wholesome, nutritious food for the American public. We regret that anyone might have become ill, and the concern and disruption this has caused our customers."
The eggs were shipped to a total of 17 states across the country: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Nevada, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.
The company said it would work with the FDA to review "every phase of our operation" and fix any problems.
Hillandale Farms said it shared "a number of common suppliers" with Wright County Egg, including a company called Quality Egg, which provided feed and young birds.
Both Wright County and Quality Egg are owned by the DeCoster family, which has a string of agribusiness interests in the Midwest and Northeast. Those companies’ records have come under new scrutiny since the recalls were announced earlier this month.
In June, company owner Jack DeCoster admitted to 10 civil counts of animal cruelty in Maine after a nonprofit animal welfare group conducted an undercover video investigation and forwarded its findings to Maine animal welfare officials.
Dr. Donald E. Hoenig, the Maine state veterinarian, said the allegations included keeping too many birds in cases, failing to treat injured chickens or promptly remove dead animals, and improper euthanization.
Hoenig said DeCoster and his company agreed to a $25,000 fine and made a $100,000 payment to reimburse the state for future monitoring of the facility.
In 1996, the Labor Department accused DeCoster of maintaining "sweatshop conditions" for migrant workers at its Turner, Maine, chicken farm, where then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich said workers risked salmonella by handling dead chickens and manure with their bare hands. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined it $3.6 million.
In January 2002, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission hit another DeCoster company with allegations that its supervisors sexually assaulted and harassed female employees, some of whom were in the country illegally, and threatened to retaliate against them if they complained. The managers were fired for "unrelated reasons," the EEOC said, and DeCoster agreed to pay a settlement of more than $1.5 million.
And in 2000, Iowa’s attorney general declared DeCoster a "habitual violator" of state environmental laws after a series of discharges of manure from his hog-farming operations. He paid a $150,000 penalty and had to build six concrete storage structures, and his company was barred from expanding those operations.
In a statement issued Monday morning, Wright County Egg said it was working with the FDA on the current recalls and defended its record.
"Wright County Egg strives to operate our farms in the most responsible manner, and our management team has worked closely with FDA through their review of our farms. We have reviewed Commissioner Hamburg’s comments to the media, but because we have not received any written reports from FDA to date, it would be inappropriate to respond to her remarks. It is important to note that any concerns raised verbally during FDA’s on-farm visit were immediately addressed or are in the process of being addressed," the statement said.
"When issues have been raised about our farms, our management team has addressed them swiftly and effectively, working with recognized outside experts to identify and implement corrective measures for our operations," it said. "We are approaching our work with FDA in the same forthright manner."
While the recall involves hundreds of millions of eggs, they represent less than 1 percent of the 80 billion eggs produced in the United States each year, said Krista Eberle, director of the food safety program at the Egg Safety Center, a trade association entity.
"This is one of the larger recalls that have happened," Eberle said. But she added, "This is an extremely rare occurrence."