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Farm Produces Eggs For Science

August 22, 1986

ROANOKE, Ill. (AP) _ A fox would have a hard time getting into Wayne Steffen’s chicken houses, where some of the world’s purest and most expensive eggs are laid.

These eggs are for science, not scrambling, so protection is paramount.

All the doors at the Spafas Inc. egg farm are locked. There are quarantine signs, and workers scrub, wear surgical gear and tote fumigated lunch bags. The air chickens breathe is pressurized and filtered and the food is sterilized.

As a result, the eggs they lay are pathogen-free - no virus or poultry disease that would interfere with their use in vaccine production and medical research. The company’s name stands for″specific pathogen-free avian supply.″

Customers, who pay $6 a dozen, use the eggs mostly in the production of vaccines against diseases that affect poultry, said Steffen. Some customers are laboratories that make vaccines against other animal diseases or human one like flu or measles.

″We’d be out of business if we were careless,″ said Steffen, who manages 25,000 chickens in five henhouses. ″If we opened up a house or someone went in without scrubbing, we could have disease and birds dying in five to seven days.″

When old hens are sold, the birds are taken from the farm on Spafas trucks and given to the produce buyer down the road. Neither the buyer nor his truck enter the farm.

The 30 Spafas employees are given free eggs so they don’t come into contact with eggs from the grocery store that might be contaminated.

The chicken feed is steamed, animal protein is excluded, and Spafas delivery trucks are fumigated to minimize the chance for the introduction of any pathogen through the birds’ food.

Chickens are regularly tested for 23 diseases, and the results are shipped with the eggs so customers know they are pathogen-free.

In the 1970s, when Exotic Newcastle Disease was sweeping flocks in California, that state killed infected birds and cleaned henhouses, then bought Spafas virus-free chicks to test the atmosphere.

″Our birds had no antibodies, no resistance,″ Steffen said recently. ″If there had been any trace of Exotic Newcastle, our birds would have died in a minute.″

The company was started in Connecticut in 1960 by poultry producer Raymond Davis and animal scientist Roy Luginbuhl, who recognized the need in the scientific community for pathogen-free eggs.

The company opened its Illinois farm in 1967 to serve domestic customers from Ohio to California, as well as many overseas buyers. It now produces about 60,000 eggs a week.

In 1976, the company was bought by Merck & Co. Inc., of Rahway, N.J., a major manufacturer of pharmaceuticals.

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