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Egg recall: DeCoster-linked farm releases contaminated eggs. Again.

Egg recall this past week involves megafarmer Jack DeCoster, whose farm was part of this summer's huge 550 million egg recall.

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Fines DeCoster has paid over the years include:

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  • $1.5 million to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2003 to resolve charges of sexual harassment and rape by company supervisors, reports Lynda Waddington of the Iowa Independent.
  • $2.1 million in 2003, accompanying a guilty plea on charges of knowingly hiring illegal immigrants. (In subsequent years, immigration raids found dozens of undocumented workers.)
  • $3.5 million in 1996, for mistreatment of workers at egg farms in Maine, reported The New York Times.

In September, Bethel, DeCoster, and his son Peter DeCoster appeared before the House Energy and Commerce oversight and investigations subcommittee. Bethel declined to answer questions, citing the Fifth Amendment. The younger Mr. DeCoster, now CEO of Wright County Egg, claimed that the salmonella contamination must have been caused by externally supplied food.

At that congressional hearing, the elder DeCoster addressed concerns about his farms. “We were horrified to learn that our eggs may have made people sick," he said in the statement he read to the subcommittee. "We apologize to every one who may have been sickened by eating our eggs. I pray several times each day for all of them and for their improved health."

A few weeks later, on Oct. 18, the FDA issued a warning letter to Jack and Peter DeCoster outlining the unsanitary conditions and related health-code violations they had identified during an August visit. The details, including rodent infestations, wildlife contamination, burgeoning manure pits, and other unpleasantness, are “not intended to be an all-inclusive list of violations at your facility,” the letter stated. “Failure to take prompt corrective action may result in regulatory action being initiated by the Food and Drug Administration without further notice. These actions include, but are not limited to, seizure and/or injunction.”

“FDA's findings are truly stomach churning,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), in a statement. “FDA's inspections document companies with long-standing violations and apparently little intention to comply. The decrepit conditions in these hen houses reflect the fact that companies know that FDA inspections are so rare – even following the adoption of a new safety regulation – that there is no urgency to fix their buildings and their operations to assure compliance with FDA statutes and regulations.”

Threat of suits

DeCoster also faces the possibility of private lawsuits. Seattle food safety attorney William Marler has assembled 105 people who fell ill after consuming contaminated eggs this summer, and is coordinating lawsuits. “Why is this ‘habitual violator’ not closed?” Mr. Marler asked in his blog.

"The USDA and FDA [are] without teeth in the current situation. I don't know what they can do to put Jack DeCoster out of business," said Marler's associate, Drew Falkenstein. "With the addition of this most recent recall ... there's obviously a problem with Jack DeCoster's system."


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