With a six-fold increase in the number of salmonella enteritidis infections occurring in the United States between 1977 and 1986 alone and further outbreaks this year, it is nothing short of incredible that the federal government should propose only a voluntary rather than a mandatory testing program for eggs.
This is particularly the case when even the egg-producing industry itself is asking the federal government for a strict mandatory testing and monitoring program.Salmonella enteritidis, a bacteria found in eggs, not only makes people extremely ill, it also can kill them. The bacteria has been responsible for at least 11 deaths from Grade A table eggs since January 1985.
Outbreaks of the disease this year prompted the formation of a joint task force of the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture, which issued a four-point voluntary program to reduce contamination.
But this is not enough, say egg industry officials who told a hearing this week that an inspection program should be mandatory, including testing and monitoring of egg farms, slaughtering of infected laying flocks, and diverting of any healthy eggs from such flocks to breaking plants for pasteurization as dry eggs.
Not all eggs are infected with the bacteria, in fact, most eggs are safe. But there are precautions to be observed. USDA bulletins advise high-risk consumers to avoid eating raw eggs, lightly cooked or runny eggs, and food containing raw eggs.
While the regulatory program was distributed in a voluntary form, federal agencies are prepared to adopt a mandatory alternative if the voluntary approach is unsuccessful.
But with egg industry spokesmen themselves predicting failure for voluntary compliance, the federal government should save some time and prevent possible deaths or illnesses by making the testing mandatory at the outset.