Commentary: Egg safety rules took too long

July 9, 2009 

It's good news — but too long in coming — that the White House on Tuesday announced the Food and Drug Administration is issuing final rules for controlling salmonella contamination in eggs.

Two different federal agencies have wrestled over the issue since 1989. Yep, 20 years. Meanwhile, we've had to treat raw eggs like nuclear waste – no more egg nog, no more slurping up cake batter or cookie dough without taking a risk.

Salmonella is one of the organisms that can cause serious food poisoning, and each year some 30 Americans die from egg-related cases of it.

Back in 1986 a major outbreak of the disease was traced to some contaminated raw eggs. But because the nation's food-safety "system" is split among several agencies, for 20 years no egg-safety rules happened. The Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1989 each developed competing programs to control salmonella in eggs. Some partial programs were begun, yet at the egg industry's request Congress cut funding. More foot-dragging ensued.

Meantime, a voluntary program in Pennsylvania, begun in 1992, found – warning, yucky fact ahead – that mouse and rat feces in chicken feed was one source of the contamination. The program used pest controls, certified chicken breeders and regular manure testing to help reduce the infected henhouses from 39 percent to 7 percent. The egg rules released Tuesday generally copy that Pennsylvania program.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Charlotte Observer.

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