Iowa’s 100 million laying hens are now coming in for “aggressive” attention, state Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey says.

In remarks to update legislators on the aftermath of last year’s 550 million recall of eggs from two Iowa laying operations for Salmonella contamination, Northey said the federal government has clearly stepped up its game.

“FDA is doing things differently now,” he said.  “They are more aggressive in stepping up the requirements for testing eggs and for testing egg producing facilities for food safety.  The situation last year put the spotlight on egg safety.”

Iowa is the nation’s largest egg producer. Fully one-third of its 99 counties contain major egg production facilities. The state produces over 14 billion eggs a year, according to the Iowa Egg Council

FDA is actually now enforcing the egg rule that went into effect before last summer’s nationwide outbreak of Salmonella enteritis.  Northey told lawmakers the egg rule amounts to an “early warning” system through testing.

Iowa’s Ag chief said if facilities test positive for Salmonella, then the eggs are tested.  “This is an early warning system that was not being used before the events of last summer,” he said, “but this system is now being used and is required by FDA.”

Iowa’s big egg production facilities are seeing more FDA inspectors than ever before, he said.

Just how Salmonella enteritis got into the eggs last summer remains unknown, Northey claimed.  “Likely it was the hens’ access to rodents,” he said.  “Mice and rats can carry Salmonella.  When the mice run down a feed trough they can contaminate the feed and hens can pick up the SE.”

The Ag secretary said the Salmonella enteritis also could have been in the flock from the time the birds were chicks.

No mention was made of the feed mill that served both Wright County Egg in Galt, and Hillandale Farms in New Hampton, which recalled the 550 million eggs.

After the recall, FDA said it was focusing inspections on 35 large producers outside of Iowa picked for their past problems, which mostly involved record keeping.

Northey, a Republican, was elected to a second term as Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture last November.