|egg | photo: Kacper "Kangel" Aniotek|
I find it exceedingly strange that one agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is responsible for overseeing the health of chickens, the FDA is responsible for whole eggs, the USDA is responsible for eggs if they are transported or broken (sold as liquid), and then the FDA is responsible again for eggs sold in retail environments. It's enough to make anyone's head spin.
I have several thoughts that come to mind about this whole situation:
- Monitoring: For years food manufacturers in all different areas of the industry have claimed that they are perfectly capable of monitoring themselves and that the industry does not require government legislation because the industry is so good as self-monitoring. Obviously this (and other examples) prove that line of thinking to be fallacious.
- Consistency: While I confess to not always being a fan of how the government does business with regards to food and/or nutrition, I believe this situation highlights the need for one agency that oversees all aspects of food. Bouncing back and forth between agencies leaves too many gaps in the system. Gaps that manufacturers are only too willing to take advantage of, leaving the consumers as the ones at risk.
- Oversight: On the one hand there is too much transparency to certain parts of the system and too much secrecy regarding others. Federal agents tell egg producers when they're coming to visit? Or allow the producers to suggest dates that might be convenient for them? How is that helpful? I think we're all smart enough to know that you don't warn someone that you're coming if you want to check and make sure they're doing what they are supposed to. And if, in spite of these pre-arranged visits, the inspectors find problems they don't tell the public and there are no sanctions? Then why bother to go in the first place? And how does this in any way protect the consumer?
- Location: With the vast majority of egg farms located in Iowa this type of situation once again highlights how far removed we are from our food. I believe it is very important for consumers to consider shopping a little closer to home. Get to know your local farmer, farmer's market, or join a CSA. Pay attention to where your food comes from. Does this mean that you won't be affected by illness or other disease? Honestly no, but I believe your chances will be reduced. The vast majority of people I know who are farming in more of a small-holding are more conscientious about the quality of their product. I believe they are not as overwhelmed by the demands of large scale farming which leads to many practices which in turn can make the food chain more susceptible to problems.
Until the manufacturers and the government know that we, as consumers, are not willing to idly sit by and let them make poor decisions about our food that affect our health, they will continue to do what they've always done -- support the manufacturer over the consumer. Marion Nestle has written a wonderful book about this which has many eye-opening passages in it that show how consumers are, in some ways, seen as product of the industry rather than a valued customer.
It goes back to something I've said a number of times, not only do we need to become informed, we need to vote; with our voices and with our wallets. I'm thrilled to see more products in the store that are labeled from local sources or that are made without artificial colors and preservatives. These changes are happening because people are speaking up. These ideas are being implemented because at the end of the day the manufacturers want your money. And while I believe they would far rather have an uninformed, apathetic consumer on the other end of their production line, they will change if they have to in order to get your business and your dollars.
So while it seems like a long way from eggs to artificial colors, the process and the end result is the same. Read the labels, know what's in your food, and be willing to speak out about how you feel.