The Democrat who’s running for state ag secretary says the massive egg recall involving two Iowa companies is a sign there’s a “hole” in the inspection process. Francis Thicke of Fairfield says it also highlights a key policy difference between him and his Republican opponent Bill Northey, the current state ag secretary.
“He frequently gives the example of a 2.5 million chicken laying facility in Iowa that produces all the eggs for McDonalds west of the Mississippi,” Thicke says. “To him, this is really the epitome of agriculture and this is the kind of development he’d like to see.”
Thicke favors a shift away from large-scale ag production toward small and medium-sized farms and processing facilities. He says the benefits to food safety would be enormous.
“One isolated contamination incident is contained locally and is easily isolated,” Thicke says. “And it doesn’t multiply and make it a national problem so readily.”
More than half a billion eggs are part of the current national recall. Thicke says he may be “ahead of the curve,” but he believes laying hens shouldn’t be caged. “The European Union has announced they’re going to be outlawing caged-hen egg production in 2012 and even in this country some restaurant chains are beginning to phase out caged eggs and three states in the U.S. have put regulations in motion that will phase out caged eggs,” Thicke says. “And so in some ways this probably already an obsolete system and it’s just a matter of time before it becomes fully obsolte.”
Thicke runs a small, organic dairy, botting milk and producing yogurt and cheese on his farm near Fairfield where hens run free, feeding on grasses.
A spokesman for Ag Secretary Bill Northey issued a written response. Dustin Vande Hoef says cage-free eggs are “a fine option for those who choose to buy them, but so far there has been no evidence that cage-free eggs would not be vulnerable to the same issues” as those involved in the egg recall.
According to Vander Hoef, the F.D.A. is responsible for the investigation into the current recall and he said “it seems imprudent to comment until all the facts are in. Jumping to conclusions before we know what happened will not help us find out what happened so that those responsible can be help accountable and steps can be taken to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”