Promoting spin on the egg recall
To help readers following the largest egg recall in the nation’s history, several Post stories have included an Internet link to the Egg Safety Center, which lists the brands and identifying information on cartons that were sold.
But reader Nora Carroll in Silver Spring noted that when she clicked on the Egg Safety Center link, “Much to my surprise, this was neither a government site nor a public interest group site. Rather, it was an industry Website by the United Egg Producers that not only has a recall list but also contains propaganda about hen treatment as well as other items promoting egg consumption.
“Why would the Washington Post provide an unpaid promotional announcement to the egg industry in the middle of the largest ever recall of eggs?” she asked in an e-mail. “Shouldn’t we rely on the food safety experts in the government rather than the self-serving information from the food industry?”
Several other readers contacted me with the same concern. They didn’t question the accuracy or value of the Egg Safety Center information. Rather, as one caller said, “it just seemed like The Post endorsing something that was a little less credible.”
The readers have a point.
With questions being asked about the safety of eggs coming from the nation’s largest producers, why link to their Web site? After all, United Egg Producers, a cooperative of the majority of the nation’s egg producers, includes companies that are at the center of the safety recall.
The better links are for federal government's foodsafety.gov or for the Web site of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Both sites provide the same information about the recalled eggs as the United Egg Producers. But they're run by agencies operating on behalf of the public.
While the Egg Safety Center’s recall information is accurate and useful, its site offers the egg producers’ spin on the magnitude of the problem. A headline says: “Less Than One Percent of All U.S. Eggs Affected.” While that may be correct, the recall is the largest in U.S. history and includes 500 million eggs sold under 24 brand names.
Not all Post stories have included the Egg Safety Center link. Today’s main egg recall story, which reports that safety inspections have fallen through the cracks as the egg industry has consolidated, includes a list of affected brands and cartons and cites the FDA as the source. And a story late last week also included a link to the FDA Web site. But stories over the weekend linked to the Egg Safety Center.
Reporter David Brown, who wrote Saturday’s story, said the Egg Safety Center link was a “last-minute add” to a story written under “terrible deadline pressure.” He said he wrongly assumed that the Egg Safety Center site was more likely than the FDA site to have all of the recall information together – brands, the plants from which they came and identifying “Julian dates.” In fact, the FDA site, like www.eggsafety.org, provides all that information in one place.
Alec MacGillis, who wrote Sunday’s story, said he used the www.eggsafety.org link because it had appeared in Brown’s story the previous day and “I just assumed it was the news-you-can-use site that had been previously settled on.” Had he realized it was the site for the egg industry, he said, he would have found an alternate, neutral site from the FDA or another government agency.
| August 24, 2010; 3:07 PM ET
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