(DeCoster gives to Democrats. Chart from the Iowa Independent)The mogul behind the great salmonella egg recall has piled up health and safety violations dating back to the mid-1990s, and his problems stretch back much further. Austin "Jack" DeCoster is the principal owner of Wright County Egg, which has recalled 380 million eggs this month. A second farm connected to DeCoster, Hillandale, has recalled 170 million eggs.Conditions at DeCoster's operations in Turner, Maine, were so bad that in the 1970s he almost single-handedly inspired a state law banning kids from working around dangerous machines, reports the Portland Press-Herald. The paper notes that DeCoster paid $2 million to settle Department of Labor violations in 1997. Two years later, DeCoster paid $5 million to settle a class-action suit by underpaid workers, some of whom logged 80-hour weeks without overtime. And in 2002, DeCoster paid $3.2 million to settle a suit by Mexican workers who said they were given worse housing and working conditions than their white American colleagues. DeCoster has been accused of running an "agricultural sweatshop" and called a "habitual violator" of environmental laws by the Iowa Supreme Court.And his egg empire has rolled on.
So yes, blame the Senate for not passing the food safety bill. That bill might have helped, but DeCoster was a problem way before the House passed its version and the Senate started dithering. If you look at DeCoster's campaign giving, as the Iowa Independent did, you'll see that it's fairly limited and directed toward Democratic causes.Now comes the suggestion that you, the consumer, will get the DeCosters of the world in line. "The marketplace is making the determination if the law doesn’t," said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). If that were true, DeCoster eggs would have been off supermarket shelves a decade ago, and not because of salmonella and but because of the way Jack DeCoster has treated his livestock and workers. What we're seeing here is the lack of meaningful regulation by the government, and worse, a failure of will to govern.