The half billion egg recall is fast turning into one of those situations that’s almost to incredible to believe. Alec MacGillis at the Washington Post profiled the DeCoster family, founders of Wright County Egg, today in his article titled "Before salmonella outbreak, egg firm had long record of violations." Among the lowlights:
— In 1992, a criminal complaint against DeCoster’s operation on Maryland’s Eastern Shore alleged that it had sold eggs to a store in Cecilton and to the Cecil County Detention Center in violation of a salmonella quarantine order.
— 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 wage-and-hour claims involving 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 DeCoster 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 operation $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 a DeCoster farm in Iowa. And in 2007, raids in Iowa uncovered 51 more 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 court overturned the revocation.
— 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.