The proponents of deregulation have argued, successfully, that industries should be allowed to police themselves because no industry wants to commit suicide by putting out a bad product. They argue that it is in a company’s best interest to put out a safe, quality product and, failing that, the swift, sure hand of the Market will come crashing down upon them.
Of course even a cursory examination of millenniums of human behavior should give one pause in accepting this premise and news coming out of Iowa seems to back this up.
A Federal Grand Jury has reportedly been impaneled to consider criminal charges against Austin “Jack” DeCoster and his son Peter relating to a Salmonella outbreak in 2010 that sickened 1,900 people and led to the recall of half a billion eggs linked the Decoster’s operations.
Jack DeCoster started building his ovum empire when he was a teenager in Maine and he’s long been accused of playing fast and loose with the rules beginning in 1976 when he was fined $16,500 when it was shown Quality Egg truckers altered their driving logs to get around federal safety limits. In 1978 he fired all his employees for attempting to Unionize only to be forced to re-hire them. In 1985 DeCoster was fined $200,000 in relation to a Federal lawsuit filed in 1980 that alleged DeCoster violated the minimum wage act, falsified records and employed underage children in “oppressive” conditions including employing five 11-yearolds and one 9-year-old in his operations. In 1987, 100,000 of DeCoster’s hens died in a fire. DeCoster allowed the carcasses to rot in the fields, sickening neighbors, until a lawsuit forced him to bury the foul fowl. In 2008, three Salmonella outbreaks that sickened five hundred people and killed 11 in New York State were traced back to the DeCoster operations. In 1995 DeCoster was found guilty of violating Maine’s Civil Rights and Unfair Practices Act by forcing workers to live in a “squalid” company owned trailer park and denying them access to legal aid. In 1996 DeCoster was fined $3.6 million by OSHA for “egregious and willful violations of health and safety and wage and hour laws.” The investigation was launched because Workman Comp claims coming from the DeCoster facilities were so numerous OSHA decided to stop letting DeCoster “self report” and actually go out and investigate. In 1997 another $100,000 was tacked onto their OSHA fine for improper handling of pesticide. In 1994 the Mexican Government files suit against DeCoster on behalf of 700 Mexican and Latino workers. DeCoster settles this suit for $3.2 million in 2004. In 2002 DeCoster settled with the EEOC for $1.5 million on behalf of several Mexican women who claimed they were sexually harassed and assaulted by DeCoster’s supervisors. In 2007 a DeCoster truck overturned spilling 24 tons of chicken manure on a Maine highway. In 2009 DeCoster is assessed a $150,000 fine for endangering employees for forcing them to collect eggs from a building whose roof had collapsed under the weight of snow and ice. In 2009, Animal Rights Activists captured chickens being abused at Quality Egg facilities.
Then in 2010 came the massive Salmonella outbreak.
The outbreak was traced to Quality Egg facilities in Iowa where the company fled after Maine tightened regulations and oversight of the factory farming industry. When regulators inspected the Quality Egg farm in August of 2010 they found Live rodents, flies alive and dead and “too numerous” to count, and manure piles eight feet high under the five laying-houses. Manure so stacked that it forced open the access door allowing wild animals and wild birds inside. Manure that was leaking puddles outside the doors which were blocked by piles of manure covered with maggots both writhing and inert.
In September, 2010, Jack DeCoster and Paul DeCoster, who oversaw the day-to-day operations of Quality Eggs, testified before Congress.
In 2011, spurred in part by the massive Salmonella outbreak at Quality Eggs, Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act which President Barack Obama signed into law on January 4, 2011. The intent of this legislation was to shift “the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it.” However, in May of that year, Republicans in Congress proposed cutting $285 million from the Food and Drug Administration’s budget and $35 million from the USDA’s inspection program on the grounds that the money is needed to “lower the national deficit.”
“Do you believe that McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken and Safeway and Kraft Food and any brand name that you think of, that these people aren’t concerned about food safety?” asked Congressman Jack Kingston, the Republican elected to represent the First District of Georgia, “The food supply in America is very safe because the private sector self-polices, because they have the highest motivation. They don’t want to get sued; they don’t want to go broke. They want their customers to be healthy and happy.”
Of course all four companies Representative Kingston mentions have been hit repeatedly by food borne illnesses linked to its products.
Indeed, before Congress, Jack DeCoster said that he prays for his customers, “several times each day for all of them and for their improved health.”
The Grand Jury has been impaneled to consider the question of whether Quality Eggs covered up its own testing, the ones done while they were “self-policing,” that showed a serious Salmonella problem at the plant. The Congressional investigation found 400 Salmonella contaminated samples between 2008 and 2010.
Jack DeCoster, 77, has hired lawyer Jan Kramer to represent him.
“We’re aware of nothing they have done that would warrant any kind of a charge,” Kramer said, “We would fully expect that once the investigation is completed, there will be no charges brought,” and if past results are indicative of future results, Attorney Kramer is probably correct and although Jack DeCoster and Son have given up control of their egg production in Ohio, Maine and Iowa, there seems little doubt that the foxes still remain in charge of the egg house.