MARY CLARE JALONICK, of AP, (A.K.A., “the egg gal,”) confirmed this morning what everyone speculated, that “both farms (Hillandale and Wright County Egg) are linked to businessman Austin “Jack” DeCoster, who has been cited for numerous health, safety and employment violations over the years.” She goes further:
DeCoster owns Wright County Egg, the original farm that recalled 380 million eggs Aug. 13 after they were linked to more than 1,000 reported cases of salmonella poisoning. Another of his companies, Quality Egg supplies young chickens and feed to both Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, the second farm that recalled another 170 million eggs a week later.
Her other story, “Farms recalling eggs share suppliers, other ties,” just hit the wire. Here is an interesting perspective (if I do not say so myself):
The salmonella outbreak has raised questions about federal inspections of egg farms. The FDA oversees inspections of shell eggs, while the Agriculture Department is in charge of inspecting other egg products.
William D. Marler, a Seattle attorney for a person who filed suit alleging illness from tainted eggs in a salad at a restaurant in Kenosha, Wis., said Sunday his firm has been retained by two-dozen families and was representing a woman who was hospitalized in California.
“The history of ignoring the law makes the sickening of 1,300 and the forced recall of 550 million eggs shockingly understandable,” Marler said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “You have to wonder where the USDA and FDA inspectors were.”
As Ms. Jalonick documents, DeCoster is no stranger to controversy in his food and farm operations:
– In 1997, DeCoster Egg Farms agreed to pay $2 million in fines to settle citations brought in 1996 for health and safety violations at DeCoster’s farm in Turner, Maine. Then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich said conditions were “as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop.” He cited unguarded machinery, electrical hazards, exposure to harmful bacteria and other unsanitary conditions.
– In 2000, Iowa designated DeCoster a “habitual violator” of environmental regulations for problems that included hog manure runoff into waterways. The label made him subject to increased penalties and prohibited him from building new farms.
– In 2002, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced a more than $1.5 million settlement of an employment discrimination lawsuit against DeCoster Farms on behalf of Mexican women who reported they were subjected to sexual harassment, including rape, abuse and retaliation by some supervisory workers at DeCoster’s Wright County plants.
– In 2007, 51 workers were arrested during an immigration raid at six DeCoster egg farms. The farm had been the subject of at least three previous raids.
– In June 2010, Maine Contract Farming – the successor company to DeCoster Egg Farms – agreed in state court to pay $25,000 in penalties and to make a one-time payment of $100,000 to the Maine Department of Agriculture over animal cruelty allegations that were spurred by a hidden-camera investigation by an animal welfare organization.
So, USDA, FDA – who was watching the hen house?