by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Eggs

Nov 4 2015

Does eating eggs raise blood cholesterol levels?

The Physicans Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a group advocating against use of animals in research but for vegetarian and vegan diets, has started a campaign to restore egg-and-cholesterol recommendations to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Eggs are the largest source of cholesterol in American diets.

The campaign involves billboards like this one, in six locations in Texas:


It also involves a new organization ( with an interactive website on a dozen issues related to egg production and consumption.

The one that particularly caught my eye was #5.

A 2013 review suggested that high-cholesterol foods have only a modest effect on blood cholesterol. Of the 12 studies it relied on, 11 were industry-funded.

In a letter to Congressman K. Michael Conaway (Rep-TX), Dr. Neal Barnard, PCRM’s president, wrote:

This week, billboards near your Texas offices will alert you to the dangers Americans face if cholesterol warnings are removed…Eggs are the leading source of cholesterol in the American diet.  A report (which I’ve included for your review) in the autumn 2015 Good Medicine magazine finds that this recommendation may have been influenced by egg-industry-funded cholesterol research. America’s heart disease and diabetes epidemics will continue unabated if the egg industry succeeds in its efforts to get cholesterol warnings out of the guidelines.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) said this about dietary cholesterol.

Cholesterol. Previously, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended that cholesterol intake be limited to no more than 300 mg/day. The 2015 DGAC will not bring forward this recommendation because available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol, consistent with the conclusions of the AHA/ACC report.2,35 Cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.

The DGAC based its unconcern about dietary cholesterol on two references:

2.  Eckel RH, Jakicic JM, Ard JD, de Jesus JM, Houston Miller N, Hubbard VS, et al. 2013 AHA/ACC guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2014;129(25 Suppl 2):S76-99. PMID: 24222015. Its conclusion:

There is insufficient evidence to determine whether lowering dietary cholesterol reduces LDL–C.

35.  Shin JY, Xun P, Nakamura Y, He K. Egg consumption in relation to risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;98(1):146-59. PMID: 23676423. This study, which was also independently funded, concluded:

compared with those who never consume eggs, those who eat 1 egg per day or more are 42% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Among diabetic patients, frequent egg consumers (ie, > 1 egg/d) are 69% more likely to have CVD comorbidity…This meta-analysis suggests that egg consumption is not associated with the risk of CVD and cardiac mortality in the general population. However, egg consumption may be associated with an increased incidence of type 2 diabetes among the general population and CVD comorbidity among diabetic patients.

Were these references based largely on studies funded by the egg industry?  If so, PCRM is correct in arguing that the question of egg consumption and blood cholesterol levels merits much closer scrutiny and analysis than it is currently receiving.

What does a study funded by the egg industry look like?  Here are two one from my recent collection:

The effect of a high-egg diet on cardiovascular risk factors in people with type 2 diabetes: the Diabetes and Egg (DIABEGG) study—a 3-mo randomized controlled trial, by Nicholas R Fuller, Ian D Caterson, Amanda Sainsbury, Gareth Denyer, Mackenzie Fong, James Gerofi, Katherine Baqleh, Kathryn H Williams, Namson S Lau, and Tania P Markovic.  Am J Clin Nutr 2015; 101:705-713.

  • Conclusion: High egg consumption did not have an adverse effect on the lipid profile of people with T2D [type 2 diabetes] in the context of increased MUFA [monounsaturated fatty acid] and PUFA [polyunsaturated fatty acid] consumption. This study suggests that a high-egg diet can be included safely as part of the dietary management of T2D, and it may provide greater satiety.
  • Sponsor: Australian Egg Corporation

Dietary cholesterol and cardiovascular disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Berger, S., Raman, G., Vishwanathan, R., Jacques, P.F., Johnson, E.J., 2015. Am J Clin Nutr ajcn100305. doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.100305.  Am J Clin Nutr August 2015
vol. 102 no. 2 276-294

  • Conclusion: Reviewed studies were heterogeneous and lacked the methodologic rigor to draw any conclusions regarding the effects of dietary cholesterol on CVD risk.  [Implication: suggestions that eggs might raise cardiovascular risk are unwarranted]
  • Sponsor: Supported by USDA agreement 1950-51000-073 and the American Egg Board, Egg Nutrition Center.  The funders did not have a role in the study selection, quality assessment, data synthesis, or manuscript preparation.
Jun 29 2015

Bird flu poses big-time challenges for egg producers

This is a roundup of recent items on the effects of bird flu on egg producers: (1) the toll of the epidemic, (2) the politics, (3) the effects on restaurants, (4) the potential for a vaccine, and (5) a Food-Navigator-USA special edition.

1.  The toll: According to the USDA’s Chicken and Eggs report, the number of chickens laying table eggs declined by 33.5 million since April 1, a loss of 11%, and the number of eggs is down by 5%.  In May alone, 31.4 million layers were “rendered, died, destroyed, composted or disappeared,” four times the usual mortality rate.  No surprise, but egg prices went up by 46 cents in the last couple of weeks and now average $2.05 a dozen for Large white eggs Grade A or better (see USDA’s National Retail Report).  Since December, USDA says there have been 223 outbreaks of bird flu that have affected 48.1 million chickens and turkeys.

2.  The politics: According to an article in Fortune magazine, the flu epidemic is a consequence of industrial egg production, in which many thousands of birds are packed together.

But perhaps the most troubling aspect of the crisis is its implications for the viability of industrial-scale farming. The egg industry’s huge “layer operations”…are designed to protect birds from contamination, says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota at the University of Minnesota. The animals’ environment is tightly controlled…But when a virus pierces such defenses, or when defenses lapse, having all of one’s eggs in one basket (so to speak) can make the impact more devastating.

3.  Restaurants: The Des Moines Register reports that restaurants will be raising prices as a result of the egg shortage.

4.  Bird Flu Vaccine: According to PoliticoPro Morning Agriculture, a small company in Iowa says it’s got a vaccine that needs USDA approval before it can be used.  But people in the poultry industry think it might be “a non-starter for foreign buyers of U.S. poultry products.”

5.  Food Navigator-USA’s Special Edition is called Avian flu in focus: Navigating the egg shortage crisis.  As Food Navigator explains, “manufacturers that rely on egg products face some big challenges in the weeks and months ahead.”


Feb 12 2015

What’s up with the cholesterol guideline?

The Washington Post says that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is about to drop the long-standing guideline about restricting dietary cholesterol.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines said “Consume less than 300 mg per day of dietary cholesterol.”

This is about the amount in one egg.

I have no idea what’s going on.  The Advisory Committee report has not yet been released so I don’t know what it says (I’ve heard rumors that it is to be released this week, which could mean late Friday afternoon on a holiday weekend).

Recall: no matter what the Advisory Committee says in its report, it does not write the Dietary Guidelines.  The agencies—USDA and HHS—do whatever they choose with the committee’s research report.

If the Committee really is dropping the guideline, I’d like to see its research rationale.

I’m wondering if research sponsored by the egg industry could have anything to do with this.

See, for example, this recent study concluding that people with coronary heart disease don’t have to worry about eating eggs.

We found no evidence of adverse effects of daily egg ingestion on any cardiac risk factors in adults with CAD over a span of 6 weeks.

You have to read the study carefully to find the funding source (these are usually at the end of articles, but this one is in the middle):

Disclosures. This study was conducted with funding from the Egg Nutrition Center/American Egg Board and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Grant
No. 5U48DP001945-05).

And you have to read the tables carefully to find out that 90.6% of the subjects in this study were taking statins, nearly 90% were taking drugs to lower blood pressure, and nearly 80% were taking aspirin.  The discussion, however, does not mention this point making this study a classic example of the problems with conflicts of interest in research.

If the Advisory Committee is dropping the cholesterol recommendation, could it be because so many people are taking statins that dietary cholesterol doesn’t appear to matter so much anymore?

This story is getting a lot of press.  Here’s one from USA Today that quotes me and changes my name as it goes along (they have now fixed that).

Can’t wait to see what the report really says.






Aug 21 2012

The FDA tries again on egg safety

We Americans like our eggs.

American egg producers provide us with about 76 billion eggs a year, which averages out to 242 eggs per capita.

But their safety can be iffy for two reasons: Salmonella and cholesterol.

Since the 1980s, more and more eggs have gotten contaminated with pathogenic Salmonella enteriditis, in part because of the increasing size of egg farms, and in part because of long delays in safety rules.

Salmonella is a preventable problem.

Producers must use clean food and water, probiotics to prevent development of pathogenic bacteria in hen intestines, and vaccines as necessary.  They also must keep eggs cold.

I discussed all this in my book What to Eat, in a chapter I called “Eggs and the Salmonella Problem.”  In it, I reviewed some history:

  •  1997     Center for Science in the Public Interest petitions the FDA to do insist that egg farms follow standard food safety procedur.
  • 1999     The FDA requires Safe Handling labels on egg cartons and refrigeration during storage and transport.
  • 2004    The FDA proposes safety rules for on-farm egg production.
  • 2009    The FDA issues rules to be implemented in 2010 for egg producers with 50,000 or more hens, and 2012 for producers with 3,000 or more.

Yesterday, the FDA issued Guidance for Industry:  Questions and Answers Regarding the Final Rule, Prevention of Salmonella Enteritidis in Shell Eggs During Production, Storage, and Transportation.

And it updated its Egg Safety home page.

Still to come: rules for producers of organic eggs that allow hens access to the outdoors.

But maybe we shouldn’t be eating so many eggs anyway?

A recent Canadian study associates eating egg yolks with formation of plaques in coronary arteries.

The egg industry doesn’t like this study much.

Eggs have been shown to have a wide range of health benefits, providing 13 essential vitamins and minerals, high-quality protein and antioxidants, all for just 70 calories.

It cites other studies giving different results.

These findings are surprising and contradict more than 40 years of research demonstrating that healthy adults can enjoy eggs without significantly impacting their risk of heart disease.

I like eggs.  I vote for everything in moderation on this one.  But having seen industrial egg facilities, I’m buying them from farmers’ markets these days—for reasons of food safety, animal welfare, and taste.

Feb 8 2012

Listeria in hard-boiled eggs? How come?

A company called Michael Foods has recalled more than one million hard-boiled eggs because of possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.  These especially nasty bacteria grow happily at refrigerator temperatures.

Michael Foods packaged the eggs in buckets of brine at a facility in Wakefield, Nebraska.  Investigators suspect a room in the packaging plant as the most likely source of contamination.  Listeria do tend to lurk in wet crevices of packing plants.

The company’s recall notice says:

None of the eggs were sold directly by Michael Foods to retailers or consumers. However, food distributors and manufacturers who purchased the eggs could have used them in products that were sold to retail outlets or used in foodservice settings.

Think: commercially prepared egg salad sandwiches and potato salads.

If you can’t quite get how a million hard-cooked eggs could be exposed to Listeria, you have plenty of company, mine included.

Hard-boiled eggs are boiled.  They are sterile.  What could have happened?

I went to the Web to find out how eggs are processed for commercial use, and discovered the Sanovo Group.   This company produces machines that wash and peel hard-boiled eggs (check the video).

The company’s SB 20000 Egg Boiler, for example:

automatically boils, cools and peels up to 20,000 eggs/hour. It can handle both brown and white eggs [Huh?  Why would anyone expect a difference?]….The SB 20000 Egg Boiler centres the yolk on stainless steel rollers, improving the egg quality and yield. A uniform boiling of the eggs is obtained by the built-in conveyor working with up to 18 minutes boiling time.

The boiled eggs are cooled for 23 minutes in the SC 20000 Egg Cooler, improving the peeling of the eggs. Ice water is injected in the centre of the cooling drum for optimal cooling transmission to the egg.

The SP 20000 Egg Peeler gently cracks the eggshells. Using the hygienic and no-scratch peeling technique. The complete system is easily cleaned for optimal hygiene.

The contamination must have occurred after the eggs were peeled or while they were in the buckets.

To me, the mere thought of peeled, hard-cooked eggs sitting in pails of cold, Listeria-friendly salt water for who knows how long be should make anyone run for the nearest testing kit.

These egg recalls are a perfect example of the hazards of industrial-scale food production.

Support your local egg farmer and peel your own eggs!

Sep 17 2010

A decent food safety system: will we ever get one?

I get asked all the time what food has to do with politics.  My answer: everything.  Take food safety, for example.

No wonder meat producers hate bad press.  According to Illinois Farm Gate, when consumers read scary things about meat, they stop buying it.

When media attention is given to animal welfare issues, regardless of the production practices involved, consumer demand softens not only for that particular meat, but for all meats. Over the past decade, pork and poultry demand would be higher, were it not for media attention to livestock production issues. Such attention causes consumers to eat less meat and show preference to spend their food dollar on non-meat items for as long as 6 months after the media report.

This week’s bad press is about the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in industrial pig farming.

Dispensing antibiotics to healthy animals is routine on the large, concentrated farms that now dominate American agriculture. But the practice is increasingly condemned by medical experts who say it contributes to a growing scourge of modern medicine: the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including dangerous E. coli strains that account for millions of bladder infections each year, as well as resistant types of salmonella and other microbes.

Dr. James R. Johnson, an infectious-disease expert at the University of Minnesota explains what this is about:

For those of us in the public health community, the evidence is unambiguously clear….Most of the E. coli resistance in humans can be traced to food-animal sources.

Will reports like this discourage consumers from buying pork and other meats?  Consumers are not stupid.  They just might.

As for our profoundly dysfunctional Senate: it seems increasingly unlikely to pass food safety legislation before the midterm election cycle.  All of a sudden, food safety is too expensive?

Tell that to industries producing food that nobody will buy out of fear of becoming sick.

That’s food politics in action for you.

Last year at about this time, Bill Marler, the Seattle attorney who represents victims of food poisonings, sent every senator a tee shirt with this logo on it.  I suppose it’s naive to hope that maybe he will get his wish by this thanksgiving, but I am everlastingly optimistic that reason occasionally prevails.

Footnote 1: China is considering the death penalty for perpetrators of food safety crimes: “Officials who are involved in food safety crimes should not be given a reprieve or be exempt from criminal punishment.” Mind you, I am not a proponent of the death penalty, but I do think we need a safety system that holds food producers accountable.

Footnote 2: And then there is the half billion”incredible” egg recall.  Slow Food USA has a nifty video on the alternatives: “USDA and FDA.  Make eggs edible.  Now that would be incredible.”

Aug 31 2010

The FDA’s egg inspection reports. Yuck.

The FDA has just posted the “483” reports from inspectors who examined the Iowa egg factories responsible for the recent Salmonella outbreak and recalls.  These, as the New York Times puts it, go into “nose-pinching detail.”

I happen to have a strong stomach for these kinds of things, perhaps because I have had children. Birds, like babies, produce waste. Babies create some smelly sanitation issues.  But tens of thousands of birds in one place create waste on an entirely different scale—for the birds themselves, for the workers who handle them, and for people who eat their eggs.

The FDA reports make interesting reading. The inspection violations at the Hillandale facility ranged from the seemingly trivial (unsigned forms) to the disturbing (rodent holes) to the alarming (leaky manure) to the utterly damning (egg wash water testing positive for Salmonella enteriditis).

The comments on the Wright Egg facility sometimes approach the poetic (these are direct quotes):

  • Approximately 2×6 inch wood board was observed on the ground with approximately 8 frogs living underneath.
  • Layer 3 -House 8 had a bird’s nest and birds were observed under the edges of metal siding on the south wall.
  • The outside access door to the manure pits at these locations had been pushed out by the weight of the manure, leaving open access to wildlife or domesticated animals.
  • Dark liquid which appeared to be manure was observed seeping through the concrete foundation to the outside of the laying houses.
  • Uncaged birds (chickens having escaped) were observed in the egg laying operation…The uncaged birds were using the manure, which was approximately 8 feet high, to access the egg laying area.
  • There were between 2 to 5 live mice observed inside the egg laying houses.
  • Live and dead flies too numerous to count were observed…inside the egg laying houses.
  • Birds were observed roosting and flying, chicks heard chirping in the storage and milling facility. In addition, nesting material was observed in the feed mill closed mixing system, ingredient storage and truck filling areas.

Take home lesson: If you just have a few chickens, waste is not a problem. If you have millions of chickens in one place, you have a disaster in waiting.

Let’s put concentration in the egg industry in some historical context. My partner, Dr. Malden Nesheim, trained originally as a poultry scientist. He points out that according to the USDA about 450 egg facilities in the United States house more than 100,000 egg laying hens, and these account for nearly 80% of all egg production.

Just for fun, he looked up the figures in his 1966 textbook, Poultry Production (10th edition).  A table in the first chapter lists more than 100,000 poultry farms in 1959.

The change may be more efficient, but it is certainly not healthier for anyone concerned.

Clarification, September 1: In 1959, there were more than 100,000 farms for which poultry products constituted the main source of income—50% or more. In 2007, 146,000 farms reported to USDA that they had laying hens. But 125,000 of these farms had less than 50 hens. Only 3,360 farms accounted for 97% of the total laying hens. For the vast majority of farms reporting laying hens, eggs do not account for much of the income. The same is true for broilers. The data illustrate the massive concentration in the poultry industry that has occurred in the last half century.

Aug 29 2010

Further thoughts about the egg recalls

Yesterday’s print edition of the New York Times carried a front-page story on the egg recalls: “U.S. ties farm to Salmonella; town is tense.”  The reporter, Monica Davey, wrote from Clarion, Iowa, the town where the tainted eggs came from.

Her story reminded me of Eric Schlosser’s movie, Fast Food Nation.  The film was intended as fiction, but much of what we are hearing about these egg operations makes it seem like fact.

Here’s what struck me most about her article.

  • So far, nearly 1,500 illnesses have been linked to these eggs, a record.
  • The FDA found matching strains of Salmonella in samples taken from bone meal and barns owned by the DeCoster family.
  • The DeCosters produce 2.3 million dozen eggs per week from their Iowa operations.
  • Iowa is expected to produce 15 billion eggs from 60 million hens this year.
  • The DeCosters have a long history of violations of health and safety laws at their operations.
  • The DeCosters contribute generously to the Clarion community.
  • The plant workers are Mexican.

It’s hard to know where to begin, but the take home lessons seem obvious:

  • Industrial egg operations have gotten out of hand in size, waste, and lack of safety.
  • Immigration issues are very much involved.  If places like this are going to hire immigrants to work in them, we need to protect the rights of those workers.
  • The Senate needs to pass the food safety bill and enable the FDA to do more inspecting.  The accompanying New York Times editorial emphasizes that point.

Today’s New York Times editorial says it all again:

It wasn’t simply that the operation is out of scale with the Iowa landscape. It is out of scale with any landscape, except perhaps the industrial districts of Los Angeles County. What shocked me most was the thought that this is where the logic of industrial farming gets us. Instead of people on the land, committed to the welfare of the agricultural enterprise and the resources that make it possible, there was this horror — a place where millions of chickens are crowded in tiny cages and hundreds of laborers work in dire conditions.

I’m hoping some good will come of all this.  Maybe this is our version of The Jungle, Upton Sinclair’s 1906 muckraking book that got Congress to act immediately to pass the Food and Drug Act that governs our food safety system to this day.   The Senate has been sitting on S.510 for more than a year.   For shame!

Addition, August 30: Michele’s Simon’s list of favorite articles on the egg recalls.

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