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Food Inspection | Globe Editorial

Egg debacle reveals loopholes

(Associated Press)
August 30, 2010

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IF FEDERAL inspectors had miraculously discovered salmonella bacteria at two Iowa egg farms before the microbes infected at least 1,470 people with food poisoning this summer, they would have had no authority to mandate a recall of potentially contaminated eggs.

Eventually, the two farms agreed voluntarily to recall more than a half-billion eggs in the largest outbreak of this salmonella strain since government scientists began keeping track in the late 1970s. But granting mandatory recall authority to the Food and Drug Administration should be a no-brainer response by Congress to this latest demonstration of the yawning gaps in the nation’s safety net for food.

New egg safety rules just went into effect this summer, but the FDA itself should add a requirement that producers vaccinate their hens against salmonella. In Great Britain, vaccinations have largely eliminated the threat of salmonella in eggs. The state of Maine also requires such vaccinations, which is likely one reason there is no sign of infected eggs at the Maine farm owned by Austin “Jack’’ DeCoster, whose family also owns one of the Iowa farms in the recall. DeCoster company egg and hog farms in Maine and the Midwest have paid millions in fines over the years for violations of laws governing overtime pay, workplace conditions, animal cruelty, immigration, and the environment.

The House of Representatives has passed a mandatory recall bill, along with new authority for the FDA to take preventive measures and track food-poisoning cases back to their sources.

An amendment before the Senate, however, would reduce inspections of “high risk’’ farms and food handlers from the House’s every six to 12 months to once every three years. Congress should stick by the House’s more frequent inspections — and grant the agency the money it needs to inspect all the country’s food producers, from egg farms to spinach fields.

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