Freedom of Information Act documents reveal that the U.S. Department of Agriculture warned the egg industry that saying eggs are nutritious or safe may violate rules against false and misleading advertising.
The American Egg Board is a promotional marketing board appointed by the U.S. government whose mission is to "increase demand for egg and egg products on behalf of U.S. egg producers." Now if an individual egg company wants to run an ad campaign, they can say whatever they want, but if an egg corporation wants to dip into the 10 million dollars the American Egg Board sets aside for advertising, because the board is overseen by the federal government, corporations are not allowed to lie with those funds. This leads to quite revealing exchanges between egg corporations that want to use that money and the USDA on what egg companies can and cannot say about eggs.
Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act I was able to get my hands on some of those emails. Of course a lot of what I got looked like this:
"Please note a number of items" about our “salmonella crisis module.” "Any questions?" Or even better--entire sheets of paper that literally just said this. That was the whole sheet of paper. Our tax dollars hard at work.
But check this out. This is some egg company trying to put out a brochure on healthy snacking for kids. But because of existing laws against false and misleading advertising the head of the USDA's poultry research and promotion programs reminds them that you can't couch eggs or egg products as being healthy or nutritious. See the words nutritious and healthy carry certain connotations (you know that a food is actually good for you), but because eggs have the amount of cholesterol they do (plus all the saturated fat) the words healthy and nutritious are problematic when it comes to eggs. This is the USDA saying this!
However, the USDA helpfully suggests, I believe you can say eggs are naturally nutrient dense.
Wait a second why can you say eggs are nutrient dense but not nutritious? Because there's no legal definition of nutrient dense. You can say twinkies and coca cola are nutrient dense, but legally, you can't say something is nutritious unless it's actually… nutritious.
So for example, the egg industry wanted to run this ad calling eggs a nutritional powerhouse that aids in weight loss. The USDA had to remind the industry that they can't portray eggs as a diet food because of the fat and cholesterol content. In fact they have nearly twice the calories of anything that can be called low-calorie.
"Nutritional powerhouse" can't be used either. Fine, the industry said, they'll move to plan B, and headline the ad Egg-ceptional nutrition. Nope, because again given the saturated fat and cholesterol you can't legally call eggs nutritious. So the ad ended up "find true satisfaction" and instead of weight loss they had to go with "can reduce hunger." USDA congratulated them on their cleverness. Yes, a food that when eaten can reduce hunger—what a concept.
You can't even say eggs are relatively low in calories. Can't say eggs are low in saturated fat—they're not. Can't say they're relative low in fat, they're not! Can't even call them a rich source of protein, because they're not.
It's illegal to advertise that eggs pack a nutritional wallop—can't truthfully say that, or have a high nutritional content. You can't say eggs are "nutritious" at all. Can't say nutritious; cannot say eggs are nutritious. (Sometimes you have to tell the industry a few times). Eggs have so much cholesterol you can't even say they contribute nutritionally. Can't say eggs are healthful, certainly can't say they're healthy— have you seen how much cholesterol there is in those things? Can't say healthy. Can't even say eggs contribute healthful components.
Since you can't say eggs are a healthy start to the day, the USDA suggests a satisfying start. Can't call eggs a healthy ingredient, but you can call eggs a recognizable ingredient. Can't truthfully say eggs are good for you. Can't say they're good for you. By law, the egg industry "needs to steer clear of words like healthy or nutritious”.
For a food to be labeled "healthy" under FDA rules, it has to be low in saturated fat—eggs fail that test—and less that 90mg of cholesterol per serving—even half an egg fails that criteria. For the same reason you can't tout ice cream for strong bones, you can't say eggs are healthy because they exceed the threshold for cholesterol.
Egg corporations aren't even allowed to say things like "Eggs are an important part of a well balanced, healthy diet" on an egg carton because it would be considered misleading, according to the USDA's National Egg Supervisor since eggs contain significant amounts of fat and cholesterol, and therefore can contribute to the leading killer in the United States, heart disease.
The industry can't afford to tell the truth about the eggs, or even the hens that lay them. The industry crams 5 to 10 birds in cages the size of a file cabinet their whole lives, but when providing footage to the media the American Egg Board instructs "do not show multiple birds in cages--they look too crowded and open us up to activist criticism." In other words, do not show… the truth.
Not only is the industry barred from saying eggs are healthy, they can't even refer to eggs as safe, "all references to safety must be removed." because more than a hundred thousand americans are Salmonella poisoned every year from eggs.
The egg board’s response to this eggborne epidemic is that Salmonella is a naturally occurring bacterium. The egg industry didn't think that should necessarily be the key message, fearing "it may be counterproductive by implying there is no avoiding Salmonella in eggs aside from avoiding eggs altogether."
That's why the American Egg Board can't even mention anything but eggs cooked hard and dry. No soft-boiled, no over-easy, no sunny-side up because of Salmonella.
The American Egg Board's own research showed that the sunny-side up cooking method should be considered unsafe.
And also because of avian influenza. In light of bird flu viruses eggs must be cooked firm. The VP of marketing for the Egg Board complained to the USDA saying they'd really like to not have to dictate that the yolks are firm— what about some Washington Post article saying runny yolks may be safe for everyone except pregnant women, infants, elderly, or those with chronic disease? Turns out it was a misquote—they can't be considered safe for anyone.
Instead of safe you can call eggs fresh, the USDA marketing service helpfully suggests. But you can't call eggs safe, you cannot say eggs are safe to eat, Can't say they're safe, can't even mention safety, can't say they're healthful. All "references to healthfulness must be deleted" as well.
Wait a second: Eggs can't really be called healthy? Eggs can't even really be called safe? Says who… Says the United States Department of Agriculture.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.
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For more peeks behind the egg industry curtain see:
For more context, check out my associated blog post: Egg Industry Caught Making False Claims.
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