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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Wright County Egg owner, DeCoster, seems to be one bad Egg

One Bad Egg.jpgI spoke with Alec MacGillis this morning about the 550,000,000 eggs being recalled and the 1,300 people sickened and the company, Wright County Egg, in the middle of it. His story, “Before salmonella outbreak, egg firm had long record of violations,” and the violations he cites is even shocking to me, and I have been at this for 17 years. I must tell you, I am looking forward to putting him under oath. Here are a few examples:

  • In June, for instance, the family agreed to pay a $34,675 fine stemming from allegations of animal cruelty against hens in its 5 million-bird Maine operation. An animal rights group used a hidden camera to document hens suffocating in garbage cans, twirled by their necks, kicked into manure pits to drown and hanging by their feet over conveyer belts.

  • In 1992, a criminal complaint against DeCoster’s operation on Maryland’s Eastern Shore alleged that it had sold eggs to a store in Cecilton and to the Cecil County Detention Center in violation of a salmonella quarantine order.
  • In 1996, DeCoster was fined $3.6 million for health and safety violations at the family’s Turner egg farm, which then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich termed “as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop we have seen.” Regulators found that workers had been forced to handle manure and dead chickens with their bare hands and to live in filthy trailers.
  • In 1999, the company paid $5 million to settle wage-and-hour claims involving 3,000 workers.
  • In 2001, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that DeCoster was a “repeat violator” of state environmental laws, citing violations involving the family’s hog-farming operations. The family was forbidden to expand its hog-farming interests in the state.
  • Also in 2001, DeCoster Farms of Iowa settled, for $1.5 million, a complaint brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that DeCoster had subjected 11 undocumented female workers from Mexico to a “sexually hostile work environment,” including sexual assault and rape by supervisors.
  • In 2002, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the family’s Maine Contract Farming operation $345,810 for an array of violations. The same year, DeCoster Egg Farms of Maine paid $3.2 million to settle a lawsuit filed in 1998 by Mexican workers alleging discrimination in housing and working conditions.
  • In 2003, Jack DeCoster paid the federal government $2.1 million as part of a plea agreement after federal agents found more than 100 undocumented workers at his Iowa egg farms. It was the largest penalty ever against an Iowa employer. Three years later, agents found 30 workers suspected of being illegal immigrants at a DeCoster farm in Iowa. And in 2007, raids in Iowa uncovered 51 more undocumented workers.
  • In 2006, Ohio’s Agriculture Department revoked the permits of Ohio Fresh Eggs because its new co-owners, including Hillandale founder Orland Bethel, had failed to disclose that DeCoster had put up $126 million for the purchase, far more than their $10,000, and was heavily involved in managing the company. By playing down DeCoster’s role, the owners had avoided a background check into DeCoster’s “habitual violator” status in Iowa. An appeals court overturned the revocation.
  • In 2008, OSHA cited DeCoster’s Maine Contract Farming for violations that included forcing workers to retrieve eggs the previous winter from inside a building that had collapsed under ice and snow.

I hope these guys have good lawyers and lots of insurance.

  • http://wordvixen.com WordVixen

    Yeesh, I hope they don’t! I’d love to see major violators go down in a big way, but when I read “fined $x after finding x number of undocumented workers”, I read “bribed $x after a scheduled raid” instead. I’m cynical, but sometimes I don’t think I’m cynical enough.

  • John Munsell

    This operation would greatly benefit from “USDA-Style HACCP”. Why? Well, first of all, USDA-Style HACCP is science based, which surely will protect consumers from salmonella-laced eggs. Just might improve working conditions for laborers too. Why do I say this?
    Because the government’s role under “USDA-Style HACCP” includes the following:
    1. Under HACCP, the government must assume a “Hands Off” non-involvement role.
    2. Under HACCP, the government can no longer police the industry, but the industry is forced to police itself.
    3. Under HACCP, the government willingly surrenders its previous command and control authority.
    Well, the article above already describes what happens to an industry and its products when the above 3 conditions are met, which already exist in the egg industry with predictable results. Will we ever learn that when our government voluntarily acquiesces its authority to oversee the food industry, outbreaks are inevitable.
    The egg industry doesn’t need “USDA-Style HACCP”. It already has it.
    John Munsell

  • Trisa Rich

    This a*hole of a creep is a poor excuse for a businessman! The gross disregard for law, the profiteering at the expense of what could be termed “abused slave labor”, the marketing and sales of contaminated goods to the public and the absolutely unjustifiable partnership of other firms with this known criminal are totally unacceptable, illegal and immoral at a MINIMUM! WHY are he and his right hand people not serving time in jail as we speak?? The lobbies for the egg industry and the pork industry (aptly named, don’t you think?) are no doubt busy licking the boots (and any other exposed body parts) of any political or government hack having jurisdiction in this matter. There are hundreds serving many-year sentences for far less onerous activities. Put this dude UNDER the nearest federal prison…or better yet, put him in with Bruno and see how he likes the situation in reverse. Let’s do away with politically correct approaches to criminality.

  • Ritzix

    This sounds like a movie not a place where people work ! EXPLOITATION OF THE WORKERS AND THE CHICKENS !! THEY NEED TO BE PUT OUT OF BUSINESS !!

  • MAINER

    I wonder if the american public knows of this companies close ties in washington.Maine senator Olympia Snow has a half brother that is in high management with Mr.decoster and has worked for him for 30 plus years.They still use illegals here in maine for their labor force.almost like the rules dont apply to them

  • Another Mainer

    THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! Mr Marler for all you do to put these people out of business and protect our food supply! ESPECIALLY Jack DeCoster who has been a blight on Maine and Iowa for years! Unless you can keep him from reopening under a new name, co-owner, business partner, family member etc. he’ll just reorganize and pop up somewhere else. So PLEASE hit him so hard in the pocketbook that he can’t recover (just like the children who will suffer from the side-effects of their illnesses for the rest of their lives!). We will be, and are, eternally grateful for your hard work and help!

  • http://brainscroll.wordpress.com/ RickRussellTX

    @John Munsell
    What if the party liable for your injury was the person or business that sold you the bad egg?
    Do you think major grocers like Trader Joe’s, Safeway, Kroger, Whole Foods, etc would demand and enforce regular inspection, laboratory testing and commercial certification of their suppliers?
    Do you think small grocers would carefully select their distributors? Would insurance agreements be carefully constructed to move liability up the chain, and would insurers demand appropriate inspection, laboratory testing and commercial certification of their suppliers?
    How many times do we need to see centralized government inspection FAIL SPECTACULARLY before we decide that central control is a failure, and that the responsibility must be distributed across the entire industry? The system fails because it has a single point of failure — a government bureaucracy whose employees are, at best, apathetic veterans of the industry they claim to police, stripped of any real ability to put the offenders out of business. At worst, they are in the pockets of the industry they claim to policy.
    A year ago it was Peanut Corporation of America, now this. PCA was inspected and cited dozens of times, but these controls were ineffective. The controls on Wright County Egg were ineffective. Insanity is leaving the same controls in place and expecting them to be effective in the future.

  • r marcley

    These swine are traitors who need to be thrown into a manure pit.

  • http://www.HaveYouEverPickedACarrot.com Jason Grauer

    Although shocking, I wish I could say this is more of a rare occurance in this country, but the more I dive into the workings of our food system, the more dissapointed I become.
    I cannot believe a company like this, responsible for so much food, can continue to be a source of food production accross our country. It’s a true shame and the only way things can ever change is by getting the word out to as many people as possible and increase the knowledge and education about what is really going on.
    Thanks for posting this information and I’ve referenced your article on my website too (www.HaveYouEverPickedACarrot.com), as we have been looking into local vs mass produced eggs.
    Keep the spreading the knowledge and get to know your farmer!
    J
    http://www.haveyoueverpickedacarrot.com/2010/09/raw-eggsmmm.html

  • JC

    Piece of sh*t Iowa farmer, spend more money in your QC & inspections instead of buying stocks. ^%$%#%#@@$@$@!$#^%&^!*^*#^(&#)*#_

  • steveb

    More and more I realize our food suppliers can’t be trusted. When asked how this could happen DeCoster said “Well, this is a big operation” as if well he’s really busy and these things happen. Break them up or shut them down!