When British farmers were faced with a salmonella outbreak similar to the American egg industry’s current crisis, they began vaccinating their chickens against the bacteria.
The vaccine works by reducing the number of hens that get infected with salmonella, and also by inhibiting transmission of the bacteria from an infected hen to her eggs. It has dramatically reduced the incidence of human cases of salmonella in Britain over the past decade.
Now, amidst an outbreak that has sickened thousands of people and led to the recall of a half billion eggs, the American egg industry is being pressured to begin vaccinating hens to reassure consumers.
While the vaccine might help prevent human illness, it does not address the larger problems of industrial egg production.
Industrial egg operations jam up to 100,000 chickens into tiny cages or crowded sheds. The chickens live in downright toxic conditions in close contact with out-of-control rodent populations that can transmit salmonella. They eat a strict diet of corn, soy, and animal byproducts. They’re often de-beaked and force-molted to increase egg production.
It turns out that tortured chickens living in unsanitary conditions are pretty susceptible to diseases like salmonella.
Instead of figuring out how to fix the disease, wouldn’t it be nice if regulators looked at why these problems arise in the first place?