SALEM, Ohio — In response to the nation’s largest recall of eggs, two New York lawmakers have introduced a bill that would require any eggs sold in the state to come from chickens that have been vaccinated against salmonella.
The requirement would include eggs produced by New York farmers, and those that are imported from neighboring states.
New York egg producers say the bill focuses only on a small fraction of what should be a comprehensive approach to sanitation in egg houses.
Egg farmers say that smart management of their operations and strict sanitary controls go a long way to preventing salmonella outbreaks like the one that struck an Iowa egg producer in August. Many of those controls are already governed by a state-run program that most large-scale producers follow.
However, following the massive recall of millions of eggs, New York Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh and Sen. Daniel Squardon, both who represent Manhattan, introduced the bill requiring mandatory vaccination.
Salmonella vaccination alone will not protect consumers, but must be included as part of any on-the-farm food safety program, Kavanagh said.
“We’ve become persuaded that although vaccination is not a silver bullet, it should be part of a comprehensive program,” he said. “It is considered to be part of the best practice by some producers.”
But some decry the legislation, saying the bill has no chance of passing.
“It is not going anywhere,” said Peter Greg, spokesman for the New York Farm Bureau.
New York has not had an outbreak of salmonella linked to eggs produced in the state since the 1980s, Gregg said. A voluntary egg quality assurance program, managed by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, governs nearly 90 percent of the eggs produced in New York, he said.
However, some New York producers are already using chickens vaccinated for salmonella in their operations.
Kreher’s Poultry Farm, which sells eggs to grocery store chains including Tops and Wegmans, already uses vaccinated chickens. Kreher, at 1.4 million birds, is the largest egg producer in New York.
However, vaccination is only one step in a management program that looks to protect eggs from possible contamination, said Karen Kreher, director of food safety.
Kreher runs a thorough rodent control program to make sure mice do not come into contact with chickens, and manages flies and other insects, Kreher said.
“The bigger piece is rodent control,” she said. “They can spread salmonella.”
Kreher, who sits on the United Egg Producers board, joined other producers in recommending to the Federal Food and Drug Administration that vaccination become part of the management guidelines for egg farmers.
Kreher said she’d rather see the federal government take on the issue of requiring vaccinations than making it a state-by-state issue.
“I don’t know that we need someone in Albany telling us what we need to do when we have the federal government encouraging it,” she said.
About 85 percent of the eggs produced in New York participate in the New York Egg Quality Assurance Program, a voluntary farm management tool that has been in place since the mid-1990s, said Jessica Ziehm, an agriculture department spokeswoman.
Salmonella vaccination is not part of the program, which focuses on rodent control and sampling for disease, Ziehm said.
“The new federal regulations put in place in July mirror our voluntary program,” she said.
Lee Hudson, who is part owner of Hudson Egg Farms, near Syracuse, does not vaccinate for his chickens, believing that proper rodent control and manure handling is more effective. The farm, with more than 160,000 chickens, participates in the state’s egg quality control program and has never had a problem with salmonella.
The egg-laying barns are equipped with a manure system that hauls waste from the barns, where it is dried in a separate building, Hudson said. Also, the grounds outside the barns are kept clean to avoid creating a habitat for mice, he said.
“If it came down to vaccination, we’d have to do it. But I think people need to run clean operations, bottom line,” he said. “A clean environment is the best environment for the hens and the employees.”