Egg Recall Will Spur Congress to Act

There's nothing like truckloads of germy eggs to grab lawmakers' attention.

The recall of 550 million eggs linked to a salmonella outbreak may pack just enough punch to produce an historic food safety law before Congress adjourns in early October to campaign for the elections.

Although no one has died from the bad eggs, about 1,500 cases of salmonella have been tied to the tainted eggs, with more expected as additional data is reviewed. The massive recall is giving a new kick to safety legislation that stalled last year.

The measure will give the Food and Drug Administration more muscle to require all food operations to implement food safety plans, directly enforce its standards on both domestic foods and those headed for U.S. ports, beef up the frequency of inspections and recall bad products. While some farm groups are still pressing to minimize new requirements for food processing in small farm operations, most of the food industry supports the legislation. Health and consumer advocates are demanding it pass.

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When Congress reconvenes after Labor Day, it’ll face a small window for action and an agenda already crowded with spending and tax bills. Nonetheless, lawmakers will want to make time to push a measure through the Senate, merge it with a bill passed by the House 13 months ago and send it to the Oval Office for President Obama’s signature.

The food bill is popular and broadly bipartisan, and it will help lawmakers seeking reelection reassure voters they will act when the public’s health is threatened. Plus the hard work on the bill is done. Senate members of both parties have stamped approval on a compromise, and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who chairs the committee handling the bill, predicts the Senate will scratch out the time needed to pass it.

The egg recall has boosted the price of eggs, but only temporarily. The regional average wholesale price of a dozen large eggs has jumped 36%, to $1.08, since the recalls began a month ago. That’s because eggs can’t be stored long, and the 550 million that were recalled spelled 3% of U.S. egg farms’ quarterly production. But on an annual basis, the recall accounted for just 0.7% of annual egg laying, so the price spike won’t last long.

The recall will likely mean that more chickens will be inoculated against salmonella. The vaccine has been shown to be quite effective in reducing the pathogen in hens and eggs. A majority of egg farmers already vaccinate, but those who don’t are learning that massive recalls don’t help them sell their product, so expect more to get on board.

Ed Maixner
Editor, The Kiplinger Agriculture Letter
Maixner was a student of news writing, agriculture and public policy before starting as editor of The Kiplinger Agriculture Letter in 2003. Raised on a ranch in western North Dakota, he kept a foot in the family farm and the farm news beat through 20 years with North Dakota newspapers – interrupted to study economics and finance while finishing an MA degree in journalism as a Kiplinger fellow at Ohio State University. Ed worked on legislation in agriculture, natural resources and international trade as an aide in the U.S. House and Senate, then ran a Washington, D.C., agricultural news bureau before joining Kiplinger. He was president of the North American Agricultural Journalists in 2011-12.