Update: Since this blog post went live, an additional 170 million eggs have been recalled, this time by Hillandale Farms of Iowa, bringing the number of recalled eggs to 550 million. These recalled eggs were sold under the brand names Hillandale Farms, Sunny Farms, and Sunny Meadow. The plant numbers and Julian dates of the recalled products are as follows:
- Plant number P1860, Julian dates 099-230
- Plant number P1663, Julian dates 137-230
The Iowa company that is at the center of the huge egg recall – with 380 million eggs as part of the effort and underway as we speak – has a history of inhumane treatment of animals, bad labor practices, and has been sued for mistreating workers. August 22’s Washington Post’s front page story on the Iowa based DeCoster family’s egg production operation finds that the company has far too often been engaged in a series of unfortunate practices.
In June of this year, the DeCoster company agreed to pay $34,000+ to settle allegations of animal cruelty in its 5 million hen facility in Maine. Apparently hens were being suffocated in garbage cans, kicked into manure pits to drown, and hanging by their feet alive over conveyor belts. A whistleblower with a hidden camera recorded this abuses, and thank goodness for that.
The company has a bad food safety record; a federal investigation into 26 outbreaks of the pathogen found in these eggs, salmonella enteritidis, the second leading cause of foodborne illness, shows that 15 of the outbreaks point to Wright County Egg, owned by DeCoster. According to the Washington Post,
- In 1996, DeCoster was fined $3.6 million for health and safety violations. Then Secretary of Labor Robert Reich termed as “dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop we have seen.” Workers had apparently been forced to handle manure and dead chickens with their bare hands and to live in filthy conditions.
- In 1999 the company settled a class action suit for unpaid overtime involving 3,000 workers.
- In 2001 the Iowa Supreme Court found that DeCoster was a “repeat violator” of state environmental laws including violations of hog farming regulations.
- In 2001 DeCoster Farms settled for $1.5 a complaint at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC, for sexual harassment of 11 undocumented female workers, including assault and rape charges.
- In 2002, OSHA fined DeCoster for an array of violations.
- DeCoster also settled a suit with Mexican workers for $3.2 for discrimination in housing and working conditions
- Federal officials found over 100 undocumented workers in DeCoster’s plants in 2003, fining them $2.1 million.
- In 2008 DeCoster was fined by OSHA for violations including forcing workers to retrieve eggs the previous winter from inside a building that had collapsed under ice and snow.
Some state regulators commented that the company has improved its approach in recent years. That may be, but – this June alone – DeCoster was cited for mistreatment of animals.
The best outcome for a company with so many violations is addressing the myriad issues head-on. Consumers, animal rights supporters, and labor leaders should come together to challenge the DeCoster company practices and demand more from those who produce the products – eggs – that we all eat.