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Government Finds Great ‘Egg Row’ Costly

December 16, 1988

LONDON (AP) _ Poultry farmers have gone from wringing their hands to wringing the necks of their birds as the public has lost its taste for eggs.

And the government, which has stood by a minister who said most eggs are tainted by salmonella, today began dishing out $925,000 for newspaper ads saying there is ″very little risk″ to the public.

″Well,″ Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock demanded in the House of Commons on Thursday, ″Which is it?″

″We are aware of the deep problems facing the egg industry,″ said Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

However, she said, 1,000 Britishers have come down with salmonella this year because of bad eggs and the government has a duty to publicize the best medical advice.

The advertisements warn against using against uncooked eggs in such foods as homemade mayonnaise and Yuletide eggnog. Firmly cooked eggs are prescribed for the sick, elderly, infants or pregnant women.

The ads say the incidence of salmonella is ″very small″ in a country that used to put away 200 million eggs a week - about four per week per person.

The egg row has raged in Parliament and the press since Dec. 3, when Health Minister Edwina Currie said most of the country’s egg production is infected with salmonella.

Consumption dropped 30 percent to 60 percent, according to producers, or 10-15 percent according to supermarket chains.

Conservative members of Parliament from rural districts have joined opposition lawmakers in calling for Mrs. Currie’s head.

″In this case, careless talk is costing jobs, it’s causing bankruptcies and it’s caused hundreds of chickens in my constituency to be slaughtered this week,″ David Steel, the former Liberal Party leader, said in the Commons Thursday.

Mrs. Currie quit today, after conferring with Mrs. Thatcher.

″I think in all the circumstances it is the best course,″ she said in a letter to Mrs. Thatcher which was released to reporters.

Mrs. Thatcher wrote accepting the resignation ″with great personal sadness.″

With inventories growing, producers announced Wednesday that 1 million eggs were being donated to Armenian relief.

Chris Kirkwood, who keeps 100,000 chickens on his farm in Rimswell in northern England, said he has been killing 5,000 hens a day and booked 20,000 more for a slaughterhouse.

″Wringing the hens’ necks is very upsetting for the men,″ Kirkwood told The Daily Telegraph.

Mrs. Thatcher felt obliged to reveal to the House of Commons last week that she had eaten scrambled eggs on toast for lunch, ″and I enjoyed it.″

Robert Hicks, a Conservative lawmaker, disclosed that he and Mrs. Currie’s boss, Health Secretary Kenneth Clarke, often enjoyed a lunch of ″beer, a cigar and two Scotch eggs, none of which our honorable friend seems to approve of.″

Love of Scotch eggs - a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage, breaded and deep-fried - was one of the things Mrs. Currie apparently had in mind in September when she chided northerners for eating too much fat.

Controversy ensued, as it did when Mrs. Currie advised pensioners to knit wool caps and sweaters if they couldn’t afford heat, or when she said that ″good Christian people who wouldn’t dream of misbehaving″ were at no risk of contracting AIDS.

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