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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Did SeaWorld Help Cause Death of a Killer Whale Trainer?; Egg Recall Details

Aired August 23, 2010 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, a prime time exclusive. Did Seaworld help cause the death of a killer whale's trainer? A former employee says yes. And that beautiful Dawn Brancheau didn't have to die. The whistleblower's here with that shocking charge on the day feds fine the park for serious safety violations. Why a coverup?

And then, half a billion possibly tainted eggs shipped to 17 states. Salmonella making hundreds, maybe thousands sick. Should you eat eggs? What you need to know to protect yourself and the family next on "LARRY KING LIVE."

Good evening. February this year, a trainer at Seaworld killed by a six-ton killer whale. Dawn Brancheau was grabbed by Tillicum and drowned. Tillicum had a violent history. Was previously linked to the deaths of two others.

Today, OSHA fined the park $75,000 for safety violations, saying it required its employees to work within the pool walls on ledges and shelves where they were subject to dangerous behavior by the animals. Seaworld today called the allegations unfounded and says it will fight them.

Linda Simons is a former employee, who makes some serious allegations of her own. We welcome her and her attorney Maurice Arcadier. Welcome as a witness describes what she saw at Seaworld back in February. Then we'll talk with the guests. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: --the trainer downstairs then called out to the trainer upstairs, okay so and so we're ready. And then Tillicum just took off like a bat out of you know where. Just took off really fast. And then he came back around to the glass, jumped up, and grabbed the trainer by the waist, and started shaking her violently. And her shoe -- last thing I saw was her shoe floating and then sirens immediately started. And then everybody down. Like the -- not the trainer, but the other people that kind of stand around the glass area started telling us that we needed to get out, get out. The sirens were going off. People were running out. It's like I never saw so many Seaworld employees come out of the woodwork.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Correct pronunciation of the whale's name is Tillicum. And let's ask Linda Simons, the former health and safety director for Seaworld, Orlando. She started work one week before the death of Dawn. What happened? What did you see? What do you know, Linda?

LINDA SIMONS, FMR. SEAWORLD EMPLOYEE: When I responded to the pool area, it was very chaotic. There were lots of employees that had responded. They were people putting themselves though in danger when they were in the rescue. People in high heels on the rock work. People who had no training with whales trying to help recover Dawn. People jumping on the gates. There are gates that split the pools so they could move Tillie from one pool to another. People jumping on those gates, putting themselves in close danger.

And at the final, when they get Tillie to the medical pool and lifted him up, team members were allowed to enter that pool and recover Dawn's body from Tillie's mouth as he thrashed about. It was a very chaotic scene.

KING: Are there certain procedures that are followed? Do they practice certain things at Seaworld in case of something like this?

SIMONS: Yes. They do have procedures in place. And there was an exercise, a safety exercise, at the beginning of February that was very similar to the incident where they had the drill. And unfortunately, the drill went so poorly, people didn't respond. People that did respond did not do what they were supposed to, that they called off the drill. They didn't go any further with it. And they were going to do another exercise. Unfortunately, Dawn's incident happened before that.

KING: Could the death have been prevented?

SIMONS: I think if they had kept the distance away from Tillie. Dawn was very close to him. That was what allowed him to grab her and pull her into the pool.

KING: Did that whale have a reputation?

SIMONS: Very much. He was known from the day they brought him there that he was a very dangerous whale. They never allowed any trainers in the water. And when you say in the water, that means in the pool submerged. Where Dawn was was a ledged area. And it was about 18 inches deep of water. But they knew that he was dangerous. They had the Tillie talk that anyone new to the stadium whether from internal, transfer, or a new person from outside of Seaworld, they had the Tillie talk that told them that if they went in the water with Tillie, they were going to come out a corpse.

KING: Maurice, this $75,000 fine in this day and age, that seems small. How do you react to that? And then I'll read a statement from Seaworld. But how do you react to that -- the amount of that fine?

MAURICE ARCADIER, ATTORNEY FOR LINDA SIMONS: Well, the fine is broken down into two. The highest possible fine is $70,000 for one incident. So they gave them the highest possible fine for an egregious incident. And then a $5,000 for the second one for a lesser offense, but OSHA gave the highest fine they could possibly give. KING: I want to read Seaworld's response to Linda's accusations. This is what they say. "The safety of our staff, guests, and animals is Seaworld's highest priority. And we have cooperated fully in OSHA's inspection of the February 24th accident. We're not at all surprised to hear that Ms. Simons has reached out to the media with these unfounded charges. Since her termination several months ago, her representatives have used the threat of negative publicity to seek a sizable monetary payment from Seaworld in exchange for her not going public with these false allegations. Linda Simons worked for Seaworld for only a few weeks and was fired not for the reasons she cites, but rather for poor performance during the OSHA inspection of Dawn Brancheau's death. During those critical weeks, Ms. Simons repeatedly demonstrated an inability to conduct herself to the acceptable standards of competence, transparency, integrity or professionalism demanded of an inspection of this magnitude. Any claim to the contrary is simply false."

All right, Linda and Maurice, Linda, did you seek money from Seaworld in order not to speak out?

ARCADIER: Before -- one thing I want to point out, once we filed an OSHA retaliation complaint, we made OSHA a party to this claim. Therefore, we couldn't -- and one of the requirements of OSHA is that any settlement cannot be tied with a gag order. And they know that very well. So we find those -- the accusations that we're trying to extort them outrageous.

SIMONS: And Seaworld did not fully cooperate.

KING: Give me that--

ARCADIER: Yes, once we filed for an OSHA retaliation, OSHA becomes a party. And they in order for a settlement to occur, they have to approve it. And one of the requirements that they put forth is that you can't enter into any confidentiality concerning that. That's one of the requirements of OSHA. So their allegation is simply outrageous and against the law.

KING: Linda, how do you respond to that statement they just gave us?

SIMONS: Seaworld did not fully cooperate. From the very beginning, they wanted to block them from coming onsite. They wanted to withhold documents. When I was terminated, there was still documents that OSHA had requested and never given. They also wanted to make sure that those documents were never disclosed out to the public, because of the damage that could be done. So they did not fully cooperate with the investigation.

The allegations about my performance, I never received any negative, verbal or written, reprimand, feedback of any nature. Only praise from the CEO on down. So those outrageous about my performance is just untrue.

KING: So what did they tell you when they fired you?

SIMONS: They told me it wasn't a good fit.

KING: That's all they said?

SIMONS: But the week before was -- yes. They said it was not a good fit. The week before that was when they refused to give the documents to OSHA. And I didn't agree with that. OSHA requested the documents. Our goal at Seaworld should have been the same as OSHA, to fully investigate so that no one else was injured or killed by Tillie. Unfortunately, I don't believe that was Seaworld's priority.

KING: Well, have more after this. Get your Twitter questions ready and calls ready for our experts on the salmonella scare. That's later.

Coming up, stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Linda and Maurice remain. Rick O'Barry joins us. He captured and trained the five dolphins that we used in the TV show "Flipper". He has spent the last 38 years fighting against animal captivity. He's featured in Animal Planet's new mini series "Blood Dolphins" that premieres Friday, August 27th. He's written an exclusive blog about blood dolphins, which you can find at cnn.com/larryking.

Thad Lacinak is a former head trainer for Seaworld Orlando. He's an animal training consultant. His company is Precision Behavior.

Thad, you said -- what's your response to the fine and this whole story?

THAD LACINAK: Well, I think the fine is unfounded to tell you the truth. When I was working at Seaworld for 35 years, I don't believe when I was working at Seaworld for 35 years I don't believe that OSHA has done their homework. For one thing, for them to come out with a statement and say they believe all the trainers should not be doing anything with the killer whales, and that they should be behind barriers is absolutely insane to me. These animals are trained using positive reinforcement. They're trained by these trainers, who love them. They are the best trained trainers in the world. The criteria for a trainer at Seaworld is so high, for them to come out with a statement and say that they cannot go near the killer whales anymore, all of the killer whales is ridiculous.

KING: Let me bring Ric in. Ric, you're -- I know you're against places like Seaworld. Do you want them closed?

RIC O'BARRY, FMR. MARINE MAMMAL TRAINER: Well, it's not that simple. It would be great if they would close, but they would have to get into research into birth control. That's what they need to do.

Look, this is not an isolated incident. There have been 50 of these violent incidents involving four or five deaths that I know about. And also, 153 orcas have died since 1965. This is a failed experiment. And I want to commend Ms. Simons for speaking out. She deserves a medal for speaking out against this abuse.

KING: All right, Thad, how do you respond to what Linda had to say?

LACINAK: Well, you know, I find it funny that we have someone that works for Seaworld for what did you say a couple weeks or a week before the incident. And then she gets fired. And then she's all of a sudden a credible witness on TV. That's what I would question for one thing.

I worked for Seaworld for 35 years. I never saw any of this -- any of the accusations that she said. Seaworld cares about their animals. They aren't going to do things to hurt their trainers. This thing from OSHA is wrong. They should never have put this statement out, recommending that they do not do anything with the killer whales.

KING: Right. Linda--

LACINAK: As far as what Ric is saying about, you know, that all these whales, 150 whales, what about all of the whales that are killed in the wild? There are over 100,000 dolphin killed in the wild every year. And I don't hear him speaking out against that at all.

O'BARRY: Well, let's be specific here. We're talking about orcas right now. And there are no orcas being killed except in captivity.

LACINAK: And there were 50,000 orcas killed by the Russians many years ago. And I don't hear you saying anything about that.

O'BARRY: Well, we're working on that. You know, Seaworld made -- last year made $1.4 billion. So this $74,000, they make that in a few hours. So that's like a slap on the wrist.

KING: Linda, how do you react?

LACINAK: Well, it's actually--

KING: Linda?

LACINAK: --only $6,000 more than what you were fined when you broke the law--

O'BARRY: That was a private lawsuit.

LACINAK: --against the Marine Manage Protection Act.

KING: Okay, Linda--

LACINAK: It was a lawsuit against you, an individual.

O'BARRY: You see, Larry--

KING: Linda, how do you react to what Thad had to say about you and the short time you were there? SIMONS: I am a safety professional with over 20 year's experience. And my claim is that they were not cooperating with OSHA investigation. I am not claiming anything to do with how the whales were treated. He was a dangerous whale. And Thad knew about the Tillie talk. That is not my claim, though.

My claim is that Seaworld did not cooperate. They blocked documents that were requested from a federal agency because they had damaging information in them. That's my claim that Seaworld did not cooperate. And because I wanted to cooperate, they terminated me.

KING: We'll get a break. We'll come back with more. And Thad will respond to that. But first, this word. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Thad, Seaworld has barred trainers from being in the water with killer whales since the death. Will they end up back in the water? Should they end up back in the order?

LACINAK: Oh, absolutely, they should end up back in the water. That's how these animals are taken care of. Not all the killer whales are trained on water work. Yes, Tillicum was not, because of what he had done before he came to Seaworld when he killed that trainer at Victoria Sealand.

But for OSHA to come out with this ruling and not have them or say that they are recommending that nobody goes in the water again is wrong.

You know, as far as what Linda was saying. I don't know Linda. I have not worked for Seaworld for two years. But some of the comments she made about it being unsafe when they were trying to recover Dawn out of the water, for one thing, when they recovered her body, they had the lifting floor. She neglected to mention that they have a lifting floor in that pool. And they lifted the whale completely out of the water. That's when the trainers entered the pool area was when the killer whale was lifted completely out of the water. And then they were able to recover Dawn from that incident. There was nothing unsafe about that. It was the only way they could recover Dawn at that time.

SIMONS: Thad, I was there.

LACINAK: That's her lack of understanding on how and what we would do when and it was an emergency.

KING: Let her respond. All right, Linda.

SIMONS: Thad, I witnessed that. And Tillie was thrashing a lot. He was tossing Dawn around in the pool while he still had her in his mouth. I saw them--

LACINAK: With lifting the floor up? SIMONS: Yes, yes, he was.

LACINAK: He was out of the water and he was stranded?

SIMONS: He was not completely out of the water. There was probably about a foot still there.

LACINAK: Well, that's not enough room -- that's not enough water for a 12,000-pound killer whale to move around. He can swing from side to side.

KING: Hold it, let me bring Ric in.

LACINAK: But the trainers know how to recover that.

KING: Ric, hasn't Seaworld had a pretty good safety record over all these years?

O'BARRY: No. They have had a miserable record. There have been -- as I say, there have been in this industry 50 violent incidents like this involving at least five deaths that I know about.

LACINAK: Larry, I was at Seaworld for 35 years, not Ric O'Barry. Ric O'Barry was around the world making money off of this so-called animal protection. I was there.

O'BARRY: See, this is what they do, Larry. This is what--

LACINAK: I was there. These animals--

O'BARRY: They send out their attack dogs to go after people's personality. You know, and they won't deal with the real issues. The real issues is--

LACINAK: I'm dealing--

O'BARRY: Listen, this animal has already killed three people. You're suggesting on national television they should allow their trainers back in the water with this animal who has killed three people.

LACINAK: No, I am not suggesting they go back in the water and you know that.

O'BARRY: Which part of killer whale do you not understand?

LACINAK: All of the killer whales that are trained for us to go into the water with and trained for the people at Seaworld to go in water with, the trainers know what the animals they can do water work with. And Tillicum is not one of them. He never has been.

O'BARRY: Which part of killer whale do you not understand? We're talking about an animal that travels maybe 80 miles a day.

LACINAK: Ric, you have no experience with killer whales--

O'BARRY: Habitat--

LACINAK: --except what you've read in a book.

O'BARRY: I trained the first killer whale in captivity in the Eastern United States. Hugo trained I made--

LACINAK: Ric--

O'BARRY: So don't tell me that I don't know what I'm talking about.

LACINAK: --you trained for a couple years and you then claimed that your dolphin committed suicide in your arms.

O'BARRY: That's true.

LACINAK: If I had an animal that committed suicide, I would quit training, too. I've trained hundreds of thousands of animals. And I have never had an animal commit suicide after I've trained them.

KING: How does an animal commit suicide?

O'BARRY: Yes and 153 have died in captivity. These animals--

KING: Guys, how does an animal commit suicide?

LACINAK: It doesn't happen, Larry. That's a made up lie.

O'BARRY: I think it's quite common. I believe it's quite common. They're not automatic air breathers like we are. They can end their life any time they want by not taking the next breath. And I think this happens quite often in captivity.

KING: Oh, okay.

O'BARRY: And you'll see some of this -- I'm sorry.

KING: Maurice, we're going to see that blood show August 27th. Maurice, is Linda planning -- blood dolphins, Maurice, is Linda planning a lawsuit?

ARCADIER: Right now we filed through OSHA, an OSHA retaliation complaint. And it's now OSHA's responsibility to investigate that. And that's the state we're in.

KING: But no lawsuit? Will there be a lawsuit?

ARCADIER: Well, see, well, Seaworld prevents employees from filing lawsuits because they have an arbitration clause. We have to go through arbitration. And they have all these kinds of confidentialities to keep the media out.

KING: We'll do more on this. Thank you all very much. Sorry, we just touched it. We got an egg problem, too. More than half a billion eggs recalled. They may be tainted by potentially deadly salmonella. What does that mean for you next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Over half a billion eggs have been recalled over the past two weeks. Contaminated eggs. A major danger problem linked to farms in Iowa. And over 1,000 people have gotten sick. Here to talk about it, Bill Marler. He's food-borne illness attorney representing cases from this salmonella outbreak. David Kirby is author of "Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment." And Dr. Roshini Raj, health magazine's medical editor and the author of "What the Yuck: The Freaky and Fabulous truth about our Body." She specializes in gastroenterology internal medicine.

Dr. Raj, what is salmonella?

ROSHINI RAJ, DR., MEDICAL EDITOR, HEALTH MAGAZINE: Salmonella, Larry, is one of the most common causes of food poisoning. It's a bacteria. It very commonly contaminates things like raw poultry, raw eggs, raw meat. And usually, when you cook your food, you kill it. But if you don't cook it well enough, you can get sick. And it usually presents as a limited illness. So it'll last a few days. You'll get diarrhea, fever, vomiting, nausea and pain. But for most people in the vast majority of cases, it goes away on its own without any treatment.

KING: Bill, if the fault is in the cooker, why is the industry to blame?

BILL MARLER, ATTORNEY: Well, it's a little bit more complex than what the doctor explained. I mean, there's a lot of risk about cross contamination. You know, when you crack an egg, are you going to wear gloves? You know, what if it gets on the counter? What if your 2 year old touches the counter?

And the other issue too is that the vast majority of these particular cases in this outbreak have been linked to restaurant egg consumption. So it's people going out to their diners, it's going with their families, and getting sick from eggs that are being cooked in restaurants.

KING: Now David, someone said today that the problem is with where the hens are kept. They're too close together and they're contaminating the situation. Is that your read?

DAVID KIRBY, AUTHOR, "ANIMAL FACTORY": Well, we don't know exactly where this salmonella outbreak began. Some people think it may have been in the feed, but it's well documented that when you grow too many animals in too small of a place, you compromise their health and their immune system and you have disease outbreaks. This is obviously a factory farm, and these eggs came from factory farm chickens, which are crammed into small cages, stacked one on top of the other, in often very unsanitary conditions. You would expect disease outbreaks in those conditions, as opposed to a tradition farm where birds can go outside and grub around on the ground, like they're supposed to.

KING: Bill, is it true that there's a bill in Congress that the FDA, if passed, could clamp down on things that David just described?

MARLER: Well, whether or not the FDA would clamp down on that is I think to be seen. Clearly, the FDA does not have the sort of authority that it needs to protect the U.S. consumers, both from factory farms and other farms that are producing contaminated products. In 20 years of litigating these cases, the vast majority of the factories, the vast majority of the manufacturing facilities that have poisoned people, most of them had not been inspected by the FDA for years before the outbreak happened.

Larry, you remember the infamous peanut butter outbreak of just last year. You know, that sickened 700 and killed nine people. The FDA had not been in that facility for years. It's a resource issue.

KING: Doctor Raj, a question from Twitter. Is this inside the egg or is it on the shell?

RAJ: It could be either actually. We're not sure exactly in this case. But the chicken -- their ovaries can actually be infected, so then it will be passed on inside the egg. Or you can have contamination from almost anywhere touching the shell. So then it would be outside the egg.

Really what's going on at the farm is what we need to know. Is it a contamination of the feed, of where the hens are living. Are they cross contaminating each other? That's what we need to get to the bottom of.

KING: Bill, we have a statement from Wright County Egg and I'll read that to you. "Wright County Egg recognizes the significant consumer concern about the potential incidents of salmonella. That's why we continue to work cooperatively with the FDA following our voluntary egg recall of shell eggs. This measure is consistent with our commitment to egg safety and it is our responsibility." Bill, does that satisfy you?

MARLER: Well, that's good to see that they hired a good PR firm, but the reality is that this outbreak started in the end of May, continued all of the way through August. There was a systemic salmonella problem in that plant. Whether it was from feed or cross contamination between one bird to another, the reality is that well over 1,000 people are confirmed ill by the CDC. The CDC will also tell you that for every one person they confirm -- and they've confirmed 1,300 thus far -- for every one person they confirm, they don't count 38.

So this problem is far larger than I think we realize. And the outbreak was going on for months and the reality is that there was a systemic problem in that plant that, you know, caused a half a billion eggs to be recalled and likely more in the next week or so.

KING: David, is this eggs in restaurants or should we worry about eggs in the house?

KIRBY: It's both, Larry. It's cheap eggs. I hate to say it, but these are the least costly eggs in production. I want to agree with what the other speaker said. This is a matter of regulation and inspection. And in doing my research, I found that these factory farms are allowed to police themselves. And the FDA doesn't even always have the authority to go in and inspect and enforce the rules.

I did research for my book "Animal Factory." I spent a lot of time in Iowa and in Ohio. And the name of this gentleman who owns these factories, DeCoster, came up over and over again. When you look at his record and his company's record, they have been issued violation after violation.

And I see this industry wide, in the hog industry, in the dairy industry. We allow these companies to basically run free. They don't have to follow the regulations the way other industries do. And we need a federal crackdown.

KING: Doctor Raj, what makes one egg better than another? I see in the store Grade A, large dozen. What's the difference in eggs?

RAJ: You know, Larry, I have to be honest I'm not sure what makes one egg better than the other, other than it sounds like the cheaper eggs are the ones that are infected. I have to say that even when we're not having a real outbreak, we always have to be careful about eggs, because salmonella unfortunately is present a lot of the time when we're buying things like eggs or raw meat. And there are definitely things you can do both at home and in the restaurant.

First of all, at home, definitely washing your hands when you are handling these things, not using the same utensils for things like raw meat as with your vegetables or salad materials. And when you go out, you can't ask for the runny eggs. It has to be well-cooked. Not eating things like raw cookie dough or chocolate mouse, Caesar salad dressing -- all of these things have raw eggs in them, and you are always at risk for salmonella.

KING: As we go to break, two comments from Twitter. One, "I work in a restaurant and our breakfast business was down yesterday, but we do have people ordering eggs." Another one, "I buy eggs only in the local area and was doing this prior to the recall. Fresher, safer foods are always found locally."

We're answering your questions coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Our guests are Bill Marler, David Kirby, and Dr. Raj. let's take a call. Lake Charles, Louisiana, Hello. Sorry. San Francisco. Hello. Lake Charles, you're next. San Francisco, go ahead.

CALLER: How you doing. Thanks for taking my call. My question is, number one, hasn't there been salmonella in eggs forever? And number two, did the powerful attorneys get ahold of the case and contaminate it so they want to sue? Or is it the organic egg companies trying to put the regular egg companies out of business.

KING: Bill, understanding it's only been in eggs since the '80s, right?

MARLER: Salmonella Eriditis (ph), which is the bacteria that we're seeing now, has really started showing up in the eggs in the '70s. Most egg companies, large and small, have done a pretty good job of lowering the percentage of contaminated eggs. I agree with the doctor. It's something you have to be concerned about. One in every 20,000 eggs is presumed to be contaminated.

But what you have here in this particular outbreak is a lot of eggs contaminated to sicken this many thousands of people. So there really was a problem in this particular plant that's even far beyond what you would normally expect.

KING: The plant in Iowa. Lake Charles, Louisiana, now, hello.

CALLER: I want to know how they become aware that a product has been tainted? And if they can backtrack and find out where it originated, why can't they do testing before it's distributed?

KING: David?

KIRBY: Obviously that didn't happen in this case because millions and billions of eggs -- half a billion eggs got sold without proper testing. This is why we need more FDA regulations. And there are laws proposed to trace back animals to their origin. Industry has largely opposed that. And it's something that needs to be enforced. But I would say it goes back to more inspection and more enforcement of the regulations that we don't have.

KING: Abilene, Kansas, hello.

CALLER: Yes, I think this is supposed to be asking the panel a question.

KING: Go ahead.

CALLER: Larry, I want to tell you, you're a legend. You're going to be missed greatly when you retire. And I don't think anybody can replace you.

KING: Semi-retired. I'll be around.

CALLER: My question is: we eat eggs every morning and I want to know if the eggs are safe here in Abilene, Texas.

KING: How do we know? Doctor Raj, we know they were shipped to 17 states: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Nevada, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. She's in Texas. Should she be worried?

RAJ: Well, there are lists on the Internet and the CDC website that have the list of the contaminated brands. Absolutely, you need to check that. If you have any of those eggs in your house, you should throw it out right away. Don't even bother trying to cook it. Just get rid of it.

Apparently, the contaminated brands have been removed from the shelves of supermarkets. So hopefully you are safe, but you need to check to be sure. And again I can't stress enough that if you're eating eggs every morning, you really need to practice very good hygiene in terms of keeping those eggs separate from other foods in your house, always washing your hands and cooking them fully before you eat them.

KING: Bill, what is the egg rule?

MARLER: The egg rule is a set of guidelines that really sort of came about from Pennsylvania nearly two decades ago, when they were trying to get a handle on the salmonella in their flocks. It was talked about during the Clinton administration, and it was about to go into effect. The Bush administration put a hold on it. It came into effect just in July of this year, after being pushed by this administration.

The reality is that they're really guidelines to try to tamp down the volume of salmonella in the flocks, whether they are small or large. The egg rule goes into effect to farms that have 50,000 or more chickens as of July of this year; 3,000 to 50,000 go into effect two years from now. So they're really just a set of common sense guidelines of checking and testing that at least help give consumers a sense that the eggs that they're feeding their kids are as safe as they can be.

KING: Another question from Twitter. "We buy free range organic eggs. Are those safe," David?

KIRBY: Not necessarily. I wish I could say they were. Most studies show that they are less likely to carry disease than factory farmed eggs. With these eggs, in a small sustainable farm, even if you have an outbreak of salmonella, you're going to have what, a few hundred eggs that are infected. Not half a billion. It's the scale that's as much of a problem.

And also it's the feed and the quality of the feed and what goes into the feed. We know that we are what we eat. We forget that we're also what we eat eats. And I think the American people need to wake up and be much more aware of what goes into chicken feed. You know, the chickens that we eat, the chickens that we grow for food, for meat, are often fed arsenic to make them grow faster and prevent disease. We don't typically give arsenic to egg laying hens. But it just goes to show the quality of the feed results in quality of the food. I think Americans need to know more. And I think the FDA needs to do better regulation.

KING: What's it like to contract salmonella and survive? A woman's frightening story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

KING: Joining us on the phone is Barb Pruitt. Barb is a victim of salmonella. Salmonella can cause serious injury and even death. About 400 people in the United States every year die from salmonella. You got it from lettuce, Barb?

BARB PRUITT, SALMONELLA SURVIVOR: Yes, I do. I had eaten lettuce and it completely changed my life.

KING: How so? What happened?

PRUITT: In the beginning, I started to just feel ill and thought I had a really bad flu. But several days later I knew it was much worse than that. It eventually led to me going to the hospital out of desperation, and I became septic and experienced tachycardia, and then I was flown out of my hometown to a bigger town, and they found out my intestines were necrotic. They removed several feet of my intestines. It's quite an ordeal to experience salmonella.

KING: How do you know it was lettuce?

PRUITT: Well, my lawyer Bill Marler and I believe that the illness was linked to a nationwide outbreak last year from lettuce.

KING: So you filed a lawsuit?

PRUITT: We are pursuing that.

KING: What do you make of this egg controversy?

PRUITT: I'm not eating no eggs. I can tell you that. It's -- salmonella is just amazing, Unless you really experience it or you're really aware it -- the bad part about consumers is you purchase something in good faith and even though it is tainted, you can't smell it or feel it. You have no idea of knowing that it contains something harmful that you're going to eat.

And salmonella is nothing to mess with. Any food borne illness can really mess your body up.

KING: What was the first sign you had something was wrong?

PRUITT: It was about three days after I had eaten the lettuce that I knew I was in trouble. I was hoping it was the flu. I tried to stick it out at home for a few more days. By then I knew something was seriously wrong with me. You just know. Your body just reacts very strangely.

KING: Congratulations on living. Barb Pruitt with us on the phone, past salmonella victim. Dr. Raj, why would they have to take out the intestine?

RAJ: It's a very unusual complication. It's interesting because we're talking about being a salmonella victim. I would suspect most of us have had salmonella, or may have it in our lifetime. As I said, it's one of the most common causes of food poisoning, and most of us have experienced food poisoning before. However, in certain people, in rare instances, it can progress to something much more serious, which obviously happened here, where it invades your blood stream.

She said she was septic. That means you have a serious infection, a bacterial infection of your bloodstream, which then can affect all your organs. In this case, it affected her intestines to the point where it was necrotic, meaning the cells of the intestine actually died and had to be removed. There are certain people that need to be extra careful about things like salmonella, because they are more prone to developing these kinds of serious complications.

That would include very young children -- right, so very young children, under the age of one, the elderly. And in this case, we're talking about people over 50, which is not really elderly. But anyone over 50, you're more prone to develop a serious complication. Anyone whose immune system is compromised. So that includes people with HIV, or people who have cancer or who are undergoing chemotherapy, people who chronically take medications like steroids.

These are group that have to be very careful, especially right now, and absolutely I would say stay away from eggs.

KING: Good advice. Back with our remaining moments after this.

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KING: Get another call in for the panel. St. Louis, hello.

CALLER: Yes, my question is will there be compensation for the families that get sick? We've been fighting this for three weeks and four doctor visits for the last three weeks.

KING: You're asking a legal question, sir?

CALLER: Yes.

KING: Bill, you are handling this. Who are you representing?

MARLER: I'm representing about 35 families throughout the United States. We filed two lawsuits, one in Wisconsin, and one in Iowa federal court. And we'll seek -- we're seeking compensation for the victims for medical expenses and lost wages. But really the most important thing is, we now have subpoena power, and we have the ability to get documents from this company and ask some of the very tough questions of the regulators as to what were they doing over the last four months in that facility.

KING: Should this man from St. Louis contact an attorney right away?

MARLER: If they are a culture positive case, and the CDC has confirmed it, they are linked to this outbreak and they should contact a lawyer if they so choose.

KING: Another Tweet to KingsThings. "Is it safe to say that egg substitutes are going to be hard to find in stores," David? KIRBY: Well, yeah, they're pasteurized. They're starting to pasteurize eggs as well. That's a real growth industry now in this country. It's a shame that we have to pre-sanitize our food before we even handle it.

Can I just say, I cringe when I hear the media refer to these facilities as farms. You saw them. There was row after row after row of buildings. These are factories. This is an industry. And what feeds this industry is very, very cheap grain that we subsidize through our taxes through farm subsidies. IF we took some of those subsidies and applied it to small,, local, sustainable farms, so that they could get in the business and stay in the business, the cost of healthier, organic eggs would come down, and the cost of industrial eggs would go up. I think the consumer would have more choice in what they wanted to eat.

KING: Dr. Raj, can you give us some quick tips in a minute?

RAJ: If you're going out to eat, again, no runny, undercooked eggs. Make sure the yoke is fully formed. Same thing with meat, if it's pink at all, chicken or beef, send it back and make sure it's fully cooked. At home, have you to be very careful about separating the utensils, the cutting boards, et cetera, that you use with raw poultry and with raw meat and eggs away from your produce. Your produce, you're not going to be cooking. You're going to be eating it raw. If there's any bacteria contaminated on there, it's going to stay there.

Frequent hand washing, after you eat, after you use your bathroom, this is going to help contain the spread to other family members. If you are sick, go see a doctor. Get tested. If you are positive, it should be reported to the CDC.

KING: Thank you all very much.

Bill Marler, David Kirby and Dr. Roshini Raj. David Kirby's book is "Animal Factory, the Looming Threat of Industry Pig, Dairy and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment." Dr. Raj's book is "What the Yuck, The Freaky and Fabulous Truth About Your Body."

Before we go, we want to send our heartfelt condolences today to Martin Short. His wife, Nancy Doleman (ph), has died. She was just 58 years old. Martin and Nancy were very much in love for a lot of years. He always said so publicly and often. They were married for 30 years.

We wish the very best for Martin and the couple's children, Katherine, Oliver and Henry.

Time now for "AC 360" and Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay?