Owner at Center of Salmonella-Tainted-Egg Investigation; "Habitual Violator" of Regulations
Gird yer loins, Austin "Jack" DeCoster. You're about to receive uncompromising media and Congressional attention. And the metaphoric (and partially ironic) tarring and feathering may long be overdue, if archived news stories are any indication.
The growing recall of Salmonella-tainted eggs is focusing widespread attention on DeCoster (photos here and here), who is the owner of Wright County Egg in Galt, Iowa, and Quality Egg, a supplier of chicks and feed to Hillendale Farms in New Hampton, Iowa. On August 13, Wright County recalled 380 million eggs that it had shipped since May 19. Hillandale recalled 170 million eggs on Friday, according to USA Today.
The FDA says that the Wright County eggs had been distributed to "food wholesalers, distribution centers and food service companies in California, Illinois, Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa." These companies distribute eggs nationwide. The recalled eggs were packaged under the brand names of Lucerne, Albertson, Mountain Dairy, Ralph’s, Boomsma’s, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, Lund, Dutch Farms and Kemps. [Writer's note: Because Lucerne consistently provides the least expensive dairy products in Chicago-area Dominick's stores, I've always been skeptical of their origin. BTW, Lucerne's cheese is absolutely tasteless.]
DeCoster, who also has a history in hog farming, is reportedly no stranger to alleged health, safety, or labor violations, which date back to at least the mid-1990s.
Reports USA Today,
In 1997, DeCoster Egg Farms of Turner, Maine, agreed to pay $2 million to settle health and safety citations. Employment conditions at DeCoster's farm were publicly denounced by Labor secretaries Robert Reich (he called them "dangerous and oppressive") and Alexis Herman (who said they were "simply atrocious"). See the NYT's "In Maine, Egg Empire Is Under Fire."
In 2000, Iowa (as in the state of) called DeCoster a "habitual violator" of environmental regulations. One infraction: allowing hog manure to run off into waterways. DeCoster was prohibited from building new farms. See a 2000 statement from the Iowa Attorney General.
In 2002, DeCoster paid more than $1.5 million in a settlement with the EEOC regarding sexual harassment claims (including rape) from Mexican women who worked at Wright County.
Other violations, including those of animal mistreatment, are reported by the Washington Post and detailed by Mercy for Animals here and here. DeCoster's heavy use of battery cages to house chickens has been linked to the spread of Salmonella on egg farms.
More than 1000 Americans have been sickened by Salmonella-tainted eggs in the current recall, according to the latest news reports, and the obligatory litigation is in the works. This may be one case in which it is reasonable to root for personal-injury attorneys.