Where would we be without eggs and Edwina Currie?

EGGS are safe to eat and isn’t that a relief. In all statistical likelihood, they always were safe to eat, and we have Edwina Currie to blame for a food crisis that lingered for 30 years.

Much as you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, you can’t break an egg without remembering Currie.

It is now three decades since Currie put her foot in that big mouth of hers; three whole decades. For half my lifetime eggs have been under a shadow thanks to her unguarded comments as health minister on December 3, 1988, when she said that most of Britain’s egg production was contaminated with the salmonella bacteria.

Ministry of Agriculture ministers were angered by her comments, with a spokesman pointing out that 30 million eggs were consumed every day in the previous year. During that time there were 26 outbreaks of salmonella.

Tellingly, the BBC reported at the time that: “Mrs Currie’s officials in the Department of Health have been unable to provide evidence that most chickens are infected with salmonella.”

Now the Food Standards Agency says that pregnant women, babies and elderly people can now safely eat runny or even raw eggs. The only proviso to this that the eggs should be stamped with the lion, indicating they were produced under the British Lion code of practice.

What lessons do we learn from the way Edwina Currie hard-boiled the poultry industry? Mainly that a big mouth can be a costly orifice in political terms. A storm blew up, egg sales plummeted and the government had to spend millions in compensation for the surplus eggs and to pay for the slaughter of unwanted hens. All to cover one minister’s unguarded moment.

Mrs Currie survived for two weeks, then resigned. She remained a MP until she was ousted in 1997. Should you be wishing to hear that her reckless scrambling of the egg industry blighted her life, you will be disappointed. Mrs Currie now has a lucrative career as a novelist and broadcaster.

Infamously, she also revealed in her autobiography of 2002 that she’d had a four-year affair with former Prime Minister John Major in the late 1980s. And if that memory is not enough to put you off your boiled eggs, I don’t know what is.

Major was not proud of the affair, saying when the story emerged: “It is the one event in my life of which I am most ashamed and I have long feared would be made public.”

Interesting that Major should refer to a four-year affair as “one event” – and this, remember, from a man known for banging on about “back-to-basics” morality.

Before leaving that affair in the history cupboard, it is worth recalling a splendidly snobby remark from Lady Archer, wife of the then disgraced Tory peer Lord Archer. Is Archer still disgraced or do these matters have a shelf-life? Anyway, here’s how Lady Archer expressed her opinion of the affair on the BBC Today programme: “I am a little surprised, not at Mrs Currie’s indiscretion but at a temporary lapse in John Major’s taste.”

Not only eggs can be poached by being dropped in gently boiling water.

What else do we learn? Oh, that we eat an awful lot of eggs and production of so many eggs can only take place on such a massive scale that moral qualms arise. I confess that the figure quoted above, of 30 million eggs being eaten every day, seemed crazy; so I did an exhaustive check (or quick Google) and it seems to be right.

According to the Vegetarian Society, 31 million eggs were eaten in the UK every day in 2012, produced by nearly 35 million laying hens; nearly half of those eggs came from caged hens and 48 per cent from free-range eggs.

We only eat free-range eggs, usually bought from the health-food shop where my wife works. And bully for us. Good eggs for sure, but such good eggs cannot supply everyone. I guess you pick and choose your food morality.

Eggs are good to eat, scrambled, boiled, fried, in an omelette, or as the boosting agent in a cake or as the wash on bread rolls. I couldn’t be a vegan because of eggs; or come to that because of butter, milk and cheese; oh, and meat.

Like many of us, I’d be lost without eggs.

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