From the Editor: October 2010
One Bad Egg
By Kristy Nudds
Remember the old saying “one bad apple spoils the bunch”? There are
variations, but the meaning is essentially the same: it only takes one
rotting apple to make the other apples in proximity start to spoil.
Remember the old saying “one bad apple spoils the bunch”? There are variations, but the meaning is essentially the same: it only takes one rotting apple to make the other apples in proximity start to spoil.
I thought of this saying when evidence surrounding the massive egg recall in the United States in late August determined that the primary source of salmonella-contaminated eggs came from farms operated by Wright County Egg in Iowa. Although further investigation showed that another company, Hillandale Farms, was also implicated, Wright County Eggs has been the bad apple, or in this case, the bad egg, at the epicentre of the recall.
Wright County Egg’s owner, Jack DeCoster, voluntarily recalled hundreds of millions of eggs after Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that the common source of the salmonella cases in humans was shell eggs, and that his company was the primary supplier of these shell eggs.
Initial testing had found a positive salmonella sample on one of company’s farms.
Federal inspectors descended on the farms and found further evidence of salmonella within the barn environments, as well as a disgusting array of filth – maggots, manure piles so high doors couldn’t be closed, flies and other insects, wild bird infestations, and, of all things, frogs. In its inspection report (available on our website), the FDA outlined numerous infractions on the farms, and after reading it, I can’t help but wonder why more people didn’t become ill, and why these farms were still in operation.
The latter question caused many media outlets to do some digging. It turns out that DeCoster is no stranger to the FDA or the Department of Justice. He’s been cited in the past for numerous health and safety violations as well as animal cruelty violations.
In an article from the Dissident Voice dating back to June 2010 – two months prior to the egg recall – it was reported that DeCoster had agreed to pay a fine resulting from what is believed to be the largest monetary settlement for animal cruelty in U.S. history, $25,000. The charges were laid against him in relation to another one of his egg business ventures, Maine Contract Farming. He also agreed to pay another $100,000 to the Maine Department of Agriculture to cover the costs of monitoring egg farms across the state and to prevent future animal abuse. The article also says that DeCoster is a “habitual violator” of state laws.
What’s clear is that DeCoster’s farms in Iowa did not follow the guidelines set forth by the United Egg Producers (UEP), nor did they follow guidelines set forth by the FDA. The FDA has been under fire for its role in the outbreak, having taken a decade to set forth food safety legislation with respect to eggs, which weren’t released until the outbreak was occurring.
Government regulation has been under fire both in the U.S. and Canada with respect to food safety legislation. Although governments say that food safety is important, they seem to drag their heels on both sides of the border. A mid-term election is coming in the U.S., and Canada is absorbed by the gun registry. Despite promises of food safety reform, little has materialized.
In spite of regulation, there is no excuse for the condition of the farms run by Wright County Egg. Responsibility can’t be placed solely on the government, in this evolving age of class-action lawsuits – DeCoster is already facing at least one. Farm operators need to ensure that they are doing everything they can to produce safe food. Nobody can afford to be that one bad egg that spoils the carton.