Last week, Americans faced another record food safety recall as more than 550 million eggs -- half a billion! -- were pulled from grocery stores across the country. Already more than 1,300 people have been sickened from salmonella poisoning and according to food safety experts, that number is likely to double. For every 1 person who reports the illness another 38.5 will become sick but never report the illness or be tested, meaning some 50,000 Americans have already been sickened by what is being called the largest egg recall in modern history.
While early reports initially confined the recall to 17 states, officials at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported today that the recall has reached at least 22 states. Since news on the ground regarding illnesses is only beginning to reach federal authorities, this recall will most likely will spread further.
As the story continues to unfold, it’s clear that this could have been prevented.
As has already been widely reported, the owner of Wright County Eggs has a long rap sheet of violations of state and federal laws. Since the mid-1990s Jack DeCoster has run up a string of flagrant violations of human rights, labor rights, environmental laws and animal crueltry abuses. Below is a list DeCoster's violations as reported by the Washington Post over the weekend.
- 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 a class-action lawsuit involving unpaid overtime for 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 the company 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 branch $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 sa DeCoster farm in Iowa. And in 2007, raids at other DeCoster Iowa farms uncovered 51 more suspected 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 panel overturned the revocation, saying the disclosure was adequate.
- 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.
For a list of the affected egg brands from Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms found in the recall, please check out the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) site at "How can I tell if my eggs have been recalled?"
To make sure this doesn't happen again, send a letter to your grocery selling Jack DeCoster's egg to stop doing business with a "habitual violator"!