Austin DeCoster, who owns the Iowa egg production facility at the center of a Salmonella outbreak that has sickened hundreds, reportedly testified during a U.S. House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing that his company “was horrified to learn that our eggs may have made people sick.” DeCoster was also quoted as saying, “We apologize to everyone who may have been sickened by eating our eggs.”
With evidence apparently mounting that DeCoster operations have been flouting worker, environmental and food safety regulations for years, it is reportedly becoming clearer to legislators that food safety “is a public health imperative” that should be addressed at the federal level. DeCoster egg farms on the East Coast were reportedly responsible in the 1980s for Salmonella outbreaks that killed a number of people and sickened hundreds more, leading several states to ban the sale of his eggs. During the hearing, Democratic Representative Edward Markey (Mass.) called for Republican Senators to support the food-safety legislation stalled before that body, saying “They must release this bill so that we can protect millions of families.” Representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) was quoted as saying, “DeCoster farms have had warning after warning. Yet they continue to raise chickens in slovenly conditions and to make millions of dollars by selling contaminated eggs.”
DeCoster’s son Peter, who is Wright County Egg’s chief operating officer, reportedly testified that the company did not test its eggs for Salmonella despite tests showing the barns were contaminated, because “our perception was that egg test results always would be negative.” Since the outbreak, the company has had more than 70,000 eggs tested, and the contamination was apparently confirmed. Peter DeCoster has reportedly indicated that the company will vaccinate all of its flocks. He also said during the hearing that Food and Drug Administration inspectors did not apparently find any problems at the company’s feed plant in May 2010. The feed has reportedly been cited as a potential source of the contamination.
The other company involved in the outbreak is reportedly terminating its marketing relationship and other ties to Wright Egg. According to a news source, Hillandale Farms President Orland Bethel invoked his Fifth Amendment right against selfincrimination and did not answer questions during the hearing. See The New York Times, September 21-23, 2010; Product Liability Law 360, September 22, 2010; and The Wall Street Journal, September 23, 2010.