|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
Faced with a crisis more than a decade ago in which thousands of people were sickened from salmonella in infected eggs, farmers in Britain began vaccinating their hens against the bacteria. That simple but decisive step virtually wiped out the health threat.
But when American regulators created new egg safety rules that went into effect last month, they declared that there was not enough evidence to conclude that vaccinating hens against salmonella would prevent people from getting sick. The Food and Drug Administration decided not to mandate vaccination of hens — a precaution that would cost less than a penny per a dozen eggs.
Now, consumers have been shaken by one of the largest egg recalls ever, involving nearly 550 million eggs from two Iowa producers, after a nationwide outbreak of thousands of cases of salmonella was traced to eggs contaminated with the bacteria.
The F.D.A. has said that if its egg safety rules had gone into effect earlier, the crisis might have been averted. Those rules include regular testing for contamination, cleanliness standards for henhouses and refrigeration requirements, all of which experts say are necessary.
However, many industry experts say the absence of mandatory vaccination greatly weakens the F.D.A. rules, depriving them of a crucial step that could prevent future outbreaks.
The drop in salmonella infections in Britain was stunning.
In 1997, there were 14,771 reported cases in England and Wales of the most common type of the bacteria, a strain known as Salmonella Enteritidis PT4. Vaccine trials began that year, and the next year, egg producers began vaccinating in large numbers.
The number of human illnesses has dropped almost every year since then. Last year, according to data from the Health Protection Agency of England and Wales, there were just 581 cases, a drop of 96 percent from 1997.
“We have pretty much eliminated salmonella as a human problem in the U.K.,” said Amanda Cryer, director of the British Egg Information Service, an industry group.
The F.D.A. estimates that each year, 142,000 illnesses in the United States are caused by consuming eggs contaminated with the most common type of salmonella. It has said the new rules would cut that by more than half. People who eat bad eggs that have not been cooked thoroughly to kill the bacteria can get diarrhea and cramps. Rare cases can be fatal.