Wright County Egg Farm: Who's Watching the Hen House?

By Laura Strickler and Emily Rand, CBS News Investigative Unit

Iowa's Wright County Egg Farm had a well-known history of violations, with fines from multiple government agencies.

So who was inspecting the farm?  No one.

The Iowa Agriculture Agency told CBS News their inspectors conducted a 15 minute "courtesy" annual inspection in mid April but made "no observations". The inspection report notes that a full inspection was not necessary because there was a "full time USDA inspector on site".

But the USDA tells CBS News that what the state agriculture agency describes as a "full time USDA inspector" was actually a grader - a USDA employee responsible for examining shell and yolk quality and looking for shell cracks - not looking for salmonella. USDA graders are not even permitted to walk through the henhouse.

Despite its checkered history, the FDA didn't inspect the farm either: Sherri McGarry, an FDA spokeswoman, told reporters last Thursday that the FDA had "no inspectional history" with the farm.

An April report from the Office of Inspector General indicates that the FDA's failure to inspect the Iowa farm is fairly common.

 

According to the report, over half (56 percent) of food facilities registered with the FDA have gone 5 years or more without an FDA inspection. And despite numerous food safety scandals like contaminated peanuts and spinach - the number of inspections are falling: FDA inspected 29 percent of facilities in 2004 but only 22 percent in 2008.

The FDA tells CBS News there are currently approximately 925 food inspectors on the job or under training, but this does not include state contractors, who conduct approximately 60% of all inspections.

Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) sent a letter yesterday to the USDA and the FDA asking the agencies what they knew about this egg producer and whether they were aware of the company's checkered past. DeLauro is the the chair of the Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee and said in a statement, ""This urgent nationwide recall is very disturbing, not only because it appears to have been preventable, but it also may have been the result of an inefficient and unresponsive food safety system."


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