The current egg recall, which grew out of filthy conditions on factory-scale Iowa egg facilities (detailed in my last post), can only be fully understood within this context. Profit margins on eggs that retail for 8 cents apiece are nano-thin; in order to make money, producers have no choice but to think in terms of massive volume. And they have to be ruthless about controlling costs.
In a market predicated on cost cutting, the winners aren't the players that produce the highest-quality eggs or maintain the best production standards. Instead, the spoils go to the ones that produce the most eggs at the cheapest price. And that means severe pressure to cut corners on food safety, building maintenance, working conditions, etc. As the career of Wright County Egg Owner Jack DeCoster shows, fines from violations of worker-safety, sanitation, and water-quality laws become a mere cost of doing business.
If a piston in a car factory wears out on the production line, your car won't catch a contagious disease. But when laying hens are routinely left to die slowly in cages in close quarters with other birds, all in proximity to vast piles of manure, all products that emerge must be treated as biohazardous material.
Indeed, the conditions the FDA discovered in Wright County Egg's huge laying house are disgusting, but not particularly remarkable. Just this past spring, Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) representatives infiltrated operations run by two of Wright County Egg's largest rivals, Rose Acre Farms and Rembrandt Enterprises. What they found were birds stuffed into cages and treated not as productive living creatures, but rather as cheap, disposable inputs in an industrial process.