Monday, March 10, 2008

Crying Over Spilt Eggs

This is a story that just won't go away. At the end of January, we learned about an outbreak of Salmonella gastroenteritis in the Tasmania, Australia. The outbreak was linked to one or more sauces made using raw eggs. Victims included patrons of the Venus, and mourners at two separate funerals where the catered food had been provided by Venus.

About three weeks later, the Tasmanian health authorities announced that they had traced the source of the raw eggs to Pitt Poultry. According to the news releases, Pitt had been a source of Salmonella-contaminated eggs in the past, but had recently cleaned up its act. Nevertheless, under pressure from the Green Party and others to act, Tasmania decided to require that Pitt apply a safety warning label to its packages of raw eggs. No other egg producer was required to use a warning label.

Nicholas Pitt, the owner of Pitt Poultry, claims that he has been the victim of a smear campaign. In an interview published on March 9th in the Sunday Tasmanian, Pitt insisted that animal rights activists and the Green Party have been making political hay out of the Salmonella incident. He pointed out that the health authorities did not find any Salmonella on his farm.

Now a former member of the Tasmanian Royal Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals (RSPCA) has come forward with the claim that Pitt was "tipped off" about a snap inspection intended to investigate animal welfare issues. According to a report carried by the "Mercury", Angela Ayling learned about the tip-off from Rick Butler, the CEO of the RSPCA. But Mr. Butler later changed his story.

Today, the Tasmanian Green Party was planning to introduce a Bill in the State parliament to ban battery-hen farming in the state. If passed, this would limit Tasmanian hen farming to free-range. The Bill is expected to fail.

This story seems to be an intertwined soap opera of Salmonella and animal welfare issues. While free-range hens might be "happier", they are not Salmonella-free. There is no easy or quick solution to Salmonella in poultry and eggs. In my opinion, confusing the issues of animal welfare and Salmonella will only delay progress on both fronts.

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