Jerry Kopel

KOPEL: LOCAL PRODUCTION IS AN EGG-CEPTIONAL IDEA

Colorado officials scramble to make sure egg industry is regulated

By Jerry Kopel
LEGISLATIVE COLUMNIST

Colorado legislators were modernizing laws in 2009 protecting quality in eggs by keeping them at the right temperature.

Those changes in law took effect July 1, 2009 as reported in my April 3, 2009 column. A year later the nation was hit by a massive salmonella recall of half a billion eggs with most diseased eggs laid in Iowa hen houses. There were reports on ABC recently by an Iowa whistleblower of the filth, rodents, and insects thriving in hen houses.

In the recent Sunset review of Colorado’s egg laws, Dept. of Regulatory Agency researchers found laws they reviewed gave virtually no authority to egg inspectors to search vehicles that transport large shipments of eggs from wholesalers to retailers. The state legislators took authority from the nine-member Agriculture Commission and gave it to the department commissioner. He or she writes the rules, decide the annual fees, who are licensed, and the type of punishment to seek for violations.

Hopefully the commissioner will levy large enough fees to allow hiring of sufficient inspectors. The DORA report did not mention the hen housing although the statute allows rules regarding “facilities.” Apparently the federal Food And Drug Act does give authority to inspect the hen houses on safety issues but they may not have read the USDA reports.

DORA’s Sunset report to the Legislature was based on fiscal 2006-2007 when state producers generated 1.8 billion eggs. We export more eggs than we import. As far as eggs eaten annually in Colorado “in egg form” DORA estimated 125 million eggs.

Colorado Egg Producers, an association of Colorado egg farmers recently published information from 2008 such as “there are 3,872,000 hens in egg production” which placed Colorado ninth in the nation’s egg production. Colorado produced 1.09 billion eggs in 2008.

Determining the condition of the egg called “candling,” is done by viewing the interior of the egg by use of sufficient transmitted light. Another definition is the subject matter “edible eggs.” It means eggs that are free from mold, blood ring, blood spot, bloody whites, filth, stuck yolk, black rot, white rot, mixed rot or any other inedible quality as defined by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. This could be revised in Colorado to include viruses or other diseases not apparent by eye-vision only. Investigating temperature or candling could be expanded by commissioner decision and purchase of the right equipment.

How often to inspect eggs and dealer premises? Frequent inspection is used by a risk based management system developed by Colorado Ag. staff. The more times violations recently occurred, the greater the chance of rapid re-inspection.

If presently not in effect, setting up a notification system between inspectors and hospitals regarding salmonella discovery would be useful.

If Colorado is going to expand exporting eggs and reducing the import from other states, it needs to review present egg law every three years. That doesn’t interfere with a longer date for a Sunset review.

The criminal and civil penalties should be changing from low misdemeanor penalties to low felony penalties. The civil and criminal fines should take into consideration the amount of money profited by violating statutes. Have a floor of $1000 and a ceiling determined by the need to end such illegal profit. While sellers of few eggs are exempt from licensing they should be held to the same standards of quality eggs to eat as licensees.

Use part of the license fee money to urge people to eat eggs produced in Colorado. We spend millions urging people to buy lottery tickets. Urging retail sales of Colorado eggs to Colorado locals and tourists is proper advertising. A recent Denver Post article suggested a rise in interest in getting local eggs outstripped the present supply.

In 1933 Colorado enacted its first egg law. The intent of the law was to prevent sale of eggs that were unfit for human consumption, prevent fraud and deception in the sale of eggs, and promote and develop the egg industry. The law was replaced in 1956 by the Colorado Egg Law, but the philosophy expressed in the 1933 law remained the same: Protect the consumer.

Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.