Egg on Our Faces: Recalled Eggs Produced by Corporate Criminal

Factory animal farms run by corporate criminal Austin “Jack” DeCoster have a long legacy of worker safety violations, environmental crimes, and animal abuses. Now DeCoster’s Iowa egg operation has been found responsible for salmonella poisoning that has sickened people in at least twelve states. Up to 1300 people (and counting) may have suffered from the tainted eggs.

And our tax dollars helped pay for these abuses and nasty eggs.

This isn’t the first time that DeCoster faced food poisoning-related problems: in 1992, DeCoster operations in Maryland faced criminal charges for violating a salmonella quarantine order. And it’s hardly the first time that DeCoster’s animal factory farms have landed the company in hot water with authorities.

(see How to Avoid Salmonella and Other Tips at the end of this post)

For example, in 1996, then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich called conditions at DeCoster’s Maine egg operations “as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop we have ever seen.” DeCoster has also paid millions to settle discrimination lawsuits, lawsuits by women employees charging that they were raped by company supervisors, environmental fines, OSHA fines, animal cruelty violations, and other government and civil actions.

The burning question of the day seems to be: now that DeCoster has poisoned hundreds of Americans, will anyone finally do something to stop this corporate criminal that has flourished despite a decades-long record of abuses?

If this seems hyperbole, let’s review just some of the company’s record:

Just this summer, DeCoster was forced to pay the state of Maine more than $130,000 for animal cruelty charges related to its egg operations there. In a statement, Jack DeCoster claimed the problem was “an isolated incident” and that care of its birds “has never been a greater priority.” In fact, the widespread animal abuses at DeCoster’s operations were called “deplorable, horrifying and upsetting” by a state veterinarian. Mercy for Animals uncovered the abusive practices with undercover video showing live hens suffocating in garbage cans, twirled by their necks in incomplete euthanasia, kicked into manure pits to drown and hanging by their feet over conveyer belts. Footage also showed an employee pointing out the suffering animals to DeCoster’s son Jay, who says to disregard it.

At the time of the Mercy for Animals expose, the DeCoster plant was certified by United Egg Producers (UEP) for animal “care” standards. UEP is an industry association that the Humane Society cites as an apologist for animal abuses. UEP says that while 97% of all eggs sold in the US come from battery cage operations, about 85% of those are certified as “caring” by the industry group.

Heard enough? Here’s some more of DeCoster hit parade of crimes, lies, and outrageous acts:

> In 2008, Ohio officials said they did not know that DeCoster was involved in a takeover bid when they permitted troubled producer Buckeye Egg, which had been cited for dozens of environmental violations. DeCoster named John Glessing, his “right-hand man,” as chief operating officer, despite Glessing’s troubled past. Glessing’s own egg company had previously been repeatedly cited for environmental violations, and he had been sentenced to four months in prison for supplying illegal workers to DeCoster operations.

> In 2002, DeCoster paid $1.5 million to settle charges brought by 11 women who were raped or sexually harassed by their supervisors while working at the company’s North Iowa facilities. The EEOC found that DeCoster supervisors had threatened the undocumented Mexican and Hispanic women with deportation if they reported the abuses. One year earlier the company paid $6 million to settle a discrimination case brought by workers in its Iowa operations.

> In June 2000, DeCoster was named the first “habitual violator” of Iowa environmental laws, paying a $150,000 penalty for repeated violations related to the company’s massive confined hog factory farms. In 2001, the state Supreme Court barred DeCoster from building new confined hog facilties for his son Peter’s company Midwest Pork (the state had previously failed in its attempt to ban Midwest Pork from operating as a “sham” business established “to promote illegality.”)

But wait, there’s still more. In Maine alone, investigations uncovered a litany of violations and criminal acts from DeCoster’s operations, including:

* In June 1988, DeCoster was fined $46,250 for184 workplace violations, including knowingly hiring illegal aliens.

* In May 1992, DeCoster was charged with violating state law by preventing outside officials from contacting Hispanic migrant workers living in DeCoster-owned trailers.

* In February 1994, DeCoster was sued by workers for failure to pay overtime. Later that year, Maine’s Catholic diocese accused DeCoster of depriving workers of their religious rights.

* In 1996, Maine Fire Marshal’s Office found 300 safety violations in 44 trailers and bunkhouses at DeCoster’s operations. In July, the US Labor Department fined DeCoster $ 3.6 million after an extensive investigation.

* In May 1997, DeCoster agreed to pay a $2 million fine to OSHA, for horrendous conditions in its housing for immigrant workers. Later that year, DeCoster announced that it would split up into six companies, with DeCoster owning the chickens and leasing them to the new companies, while forcing workers to begin paying $450 a month for housing. The move comes just weeks before a new state law allows workers to unionize and receive overtime pay on large farms like DeCoster’s.

Despite this track-record, DeCoster received over $15 million in subsidies from the federal government between 1987 and 1996. The fallout from our tax dollar investments: rape, environmental abuse, animal cruelty and tainted eggs.


How to Avoid Salmonella and Other Tips

Salmonella is a bacterial illness, with symptoms ranging from stomach discomfort to fever, abdominal cramps, vomiting and diarrhea, starting anywhere from a few hours to two days after eating contaminated food. Salmonella infection usually resolves without medical intervention, but some children, the elderly, and immuno-compromised people may need antibiotics and/or hospitalization.

Salmonella bacteria enter poultry operations via rodents or insects, and hens and/or their eggs can be infected; salmonella can infect the eggs and/or can contaminate the egg shells.

Eggs should be stored at 40 degrees (F) or below, and should be consumed within about three weeks.

In the kitchen, treat eggs like raw poultry: after using eggs, wash any utensils, containers or surfaces they came in contact with (ie, wash countertops even if only eggs in the shell were on the counters), and wash your hands well after handling eggs.

Egg Buying and Cooking Tips

As noted above, eggs “certified” for animal care standards may be a complete greenwash. Avoid eggs certified by the industry group United Egg Producers; instead, look for the “Certified Humane” label backed by Humane Farm Animal Care, and/or look for organic eggs (organic standards require that animals have access to the outdoors). Terms like “free range”, “free roaming”, or antibiotic or hormone-free are not regulated and are thus not considered meaningful label claims.

Cooking and baking generally kills salmonella, but some preparations may not reach high enough temperatures to do the job. Eggs served with runny yolks (poached, sunny-side up, etc) may harbor the bacteria, and even some cooked custards may not reach adequate temperatures to kill salmonella. Children especially should avoid these foods.

Foods with raw eggs, including some salad dressings, mayonnaise, smoothies, and other foods should be avoided unless you know and trust the origin of the eggs.