Austin “Jack” DeCoster, the owner of the agribusiness firm Wright County Egg, told the House subcommittee investigating the outbreak of Salmonella that he was “horrified” that hundreds of millions of eggs from his company may have sickened anyone. “We apologize to everyone who may have been sickened by eating our eggs. I pray several times each day for all of them and for their improved health,” DeCoster told the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee.
DeCoster’s son Peter, Wright County Egg’s chief operating officer, told the subcommittee that “while we always believed we were doing the right thing, it is now very clear that we must do more.”
But the DeCoster’s words are empty, hollow refrains in a fraudulent song and dance performed for over two decades involving human rights violations, labor rights violations, environmental laws, and animal cruelty abuses.
In 1988, DeCoster’s Maryland operation was implicated in several outbreaks of salmonella, including one at a New York City hospital in which 11 people died; New York officials barred his company from selling eggs in that state.
And in 2001, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that DeCoster was a “repeat violator” of state environmental laws, and was forbidden to expand its hog-farming interests in the state. In the early 1990s, DeCoster violated a Maryland quarantine by selling contaminated eggs across state lines.
The following DeCoster rap sheet of violations of state and federal laws clearly demonstrates that DeCoster is an amoral habitual offender — an incorrigible sociopath, devoid of any sense of remorse.
* 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 a class-action lawsuit involving unpaid overtime for 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 the company 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 branch $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 sa DeCoster farm in Iowa. And in 2007, raids at other DeCoster Iowa farms uncovered 51 more suspected 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 panel overturned the revocation, saying the disclosure was adequate.
* 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. [Source]