Nationwide Egg Recall due to Salmonella Contamination Exposes Gaps in Federal Oversight
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What’s the problem?
August 24, 2010 – Both farms that together recalled more than half a billion potentially tainted eggs this month are linked to businessman Austin “Jack” DeCoster, who has been cited for numerous health, safety, and employment violations over the years. 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.
In response, two federal agencies are downplaying their oversight roles in the wake of the massive recall that so far has affected 22 states and shined a light on what lawmakers and watchdogs for years have claimed is a broken system for regulating a primary source of Salmonella outbreaks.
Egg Recall Supplier’s History of Violations
DeCoster is no stranger to controversy in his food and farm operations:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, sent a letter to DeCoster on Monday demanding answers on how and when Wright County Eggs realized it had a Salmonella contamination, and when it notified federal and state health officials.
Do I have a Salmonella Food Poisoning Lawsuit?
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