Un oeuf is enough

Image from the Powerhouse Museum. No known copyright restrictions.

This is the clever headline over an interesting report (sadly, probably behind a paywall) in this week’s Economist about the outbreak of egg-borne salmonella in the US. The report says that the US poultry industry produces 6 billion eggs a month, and then continues:

Over the past few decades every sector of American agriculture has undergone dramatic consolidation. The egg industry is no exception. In 1987, 95% of the country’s output came from 2,500 producers; today, that figure is a mere 192. Though the salmonella problem appeared to affect two dozen brands, those were all traced back to just two firms in Iowa, the top egg-producing state. Critics suggest that this shrivelling of the supply chain leaves consumers vulnerable to bad luck or bad behaviour. Inspectors from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported this week that a recent visit to Wright County Egg, one of the Iowan firms responsible for the recall, found rats, maggots and manure piled several metres high at or near the egg-producing facilities. Robert Reich, a former labour secretary in Bill Clinton’s administration calls these “corporate crimes” and argues that “government doesn’t have nearly enough inspectors or lawyers to bring every rotten egg to trial.”

The numbers set me reaching for a calculator. Let’s see now, 6 billion eggs and 192 producers; that’s 3,125,000 eggs per producer per month, or 104,166 per producer per day. I don’t know much about hens, but if they lay one egg a day, that’s 100,000 hens per producer. This is battery farming on an unimaginable scale.