The link between Hillandale and Wright County Egg was made clearer this morning by Mary Clare Jalonick of the Associated Press who reported that both businesses "share suppliers of chickens and feed as well as ties to an Iowa business routinely cited for violating state and federal law."
The company Quality Egg supplies young chickens and feed to both Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms. The two share other suppliers, said Jewanna Porter, a spokeswoman for the egg industry, but she did not name them.
That business with a history of violations that Ms. Jalonick refers to is DeCoster Farms, owned by businessman Austin "Jack" DeCoster. She continues:
DeCoster is no stranger to controversy in his food and farm operations:
- In 1994, the state of Iowa assessed at least four separate penalties against DeCoster Farms for environmental violations, many of them involving hog waste.
- In 1997, DeCoster Egg Farms agreed to pay $2 million in fines to settle citations brought in 1996 for health and safety violations at DeCoster’s farm in Turner, Maine. The nation’s labor secretary at the time, Robert Reich, said conditions were "as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop." Reich’s successor, Alexis Herman, called the state of the farms "simply atrocious," citing unguarded machinery, electrical hazards, exposure to harmful bacteria and other unsanitary conditions.
- In 2000, Iowa designated DeCoster a "habitual violator" of environmental regulations for problems that included hog manure runoff into waterways. The label made him subject to increased penalties and prohibited him from building new farms.
- In 2002, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced a more than $1.5 million settlement of an employment discrimination lawsuit against DeCoster Farms on behalf of Mexican women who reported they were subjected to sexual harassment, including rape, abuse and retaliation by some supervisory workers at DeCoster’s Wright County plants.
- In 2007, 51 workers were arrested during an immigration raid at six DeCoster egg farms. His farms had been the subject of at least three previous raids.
- In June 2010, Maine Contract Farming, the successor company to DeCoster Egg Farms, agreed in state court to pay $25,000 in penalties and to make a one-time payment of $100,000 to the Maine Department of Agriculture over animal cruelty allegations that were spurred by a hidden-camera investigation by an animal welfare organization.
William D. Marler, a Seattle attorney for a person who filed suit alleging illness from tainted eggs in a salad at a restaurant in Kenosha, Wis., said Sunday his firm has been retained by two dozen families and was representing a woman who was hospitalized in California.
"The history of ignoring the law makes the sickening of 1,300 and the forced recall of 550 million eggs shockingly understandable," Marler said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "You have to wonder where the USDA and FDA inspectors were."