Eggs-istential Crisis

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    A Red Star chicken roosts in its coop. (AP/Erin Hooley)
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    Egg shelves are sparsely stocked at a grocery store in Orlando, Florida. (AP/John Raoux)
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    Health workers in protective gear enter a chicken farm during a bird flu outbreak in Sacaba, Bolivia. (AP/Juan Karita)
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    Egg prices have more than doubled over the past year. (AP/Erin Hooley)
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    Bird flu viruses usually do not sicken humans. But outbreaks have contributed to the high egg prices. (123RF)
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Chickens can’t fly, but egg prices have gone sky high. Chicken producers want to help. But first, federal regulations must change.

In December 2022, the price of a dozen eggs soared to $4.25. A year earlier, it was $1.79. You can partly blame inflation. Farmers spend more on feed, fuel, and labor. So they charge more for eggs.

The bigger culprit: bird flu. (See Free-range Birds Head Indoors at teen.wng.org/node/7603.) To stop a recent outbreak, farmers slaughtered up to 58 million birds. Fewer hens means fewer eggs to market. Prices climb.

If only we had 400 million spare eggs lying around!

Ahem. We do.

U.S. chicken producers raise birds for meat. Those meat hens lay eggs just like other hens. But chicken farmers can’t sell those eggs—at least, not for human consumption.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets food safety rules across the United States. According to the FDA, eggs must be refrigerated (below 45°) within 36 hours. If not, they can’t be sold for human food.

But meat producers aren’t set up to refrigerate eggs. The extras get thrown away or turned into animal feed. The National Chicken Council (a trade association, not a council of chickens) calls this wasteful. It sent the FDA a formal petition to remove the rule.

Why would the FDA approve tossing food?

The fear is that unrefrigerated eggs increase risk of salmonella. In warm temperatures, this sickness-causing bacteria can spread quickly through food and raw meat.

Each newly laid egg has a thin protective coat called the “bloom” or “cuticle.” This layer keeps most bacteria from entering the porous eggshell. An egg straight from the farm that hasn’t been washed is mostly protected from pathogens that could sicken a consumer—until the egg is washed. Once washed, it must be refrigerated if not immediately cooked.

Commercial eggs are washed with a solution that keeps most bacteria from passing through the shell. They must then be refrigerated until use. But even with those rules, the FDA estimates that 142,000 Americans per year get salmonella from eggs.

The Chicken Council protests. It says the eggs will be safe, because they will be pasteurized (quickly heated to kill any harmful bacteria).

So is it necessary to destroy all those eggs? The FDA helps protect Americans from dangerous products. But sometimes it’s hard to tell if protections go too far. As food prices soar and shortages abound, should the rules bend?

Still, would these extra eggs remedy the price problem? The United States produces roughly 100 billion eggs in a year. Would 400 million more make much of a dent?

Why? Nations create agencies like the FDA to protect their people, but some regulations cause unintended waste or harm, especially when God’s natural protections which He designed are not considered.