In 1980, the DeCoster operation was charged with employing five 11-year-olds and a 9-year-old by the Labor department.
Prior to 1993: Even before he built his first large-scale Iowa pig farming operation, Austin J. "Jack" DeCoster had already drawn the serious attention of environmental and labor law enforcement authorities. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection had brought a 14-count action against him for activities that were polluting both air and water. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had investigated DeCoster in connection with farm workers' reports that they had been exposed to lethal asbestos in DeCoster chicken houses. There had also been a federal suit brought against DeCoster under the Migrant Agricultural Workers Protection Act, based on workers' reports of unfit housing, and of illegal threats and harassment ongoing at DeCoster plants
In 1996, then-Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich proposed more than $3.6 million in penalties against DeCoster for numerous alleged egregious and willful violations of health and safety and wage and hour laws. In May 1997, the company settled the case by paying $2 million, agreeing to pay full restitution of back wages owed to workers and agreeing to third-party monitoring.
"The conditions at this migrant farm site are as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop we have seen," Reich said at the time. "Fear and intimidation kept these workers in this unsafe, unhealthy atmosphere and living in totally unsanitary conditions."
Officials had been tipped off by an undercover video shot by a humane investigator for Mercy For Animals depicting live hens suffocating in garbage cans, twirled by their necks in incomplete euthanasia, kicked into manure pits to drown and hanging by their feet over conveyer belts. Footage even shows the investigator, hired as an employee, pointing out the suffering animals to DeCoster's son Jay who says to disregard it.
In 1996, federal investigators found DeCoster workers living in rat and cockroach infested housing and OSHA found their drinking water contaminated with faeces. Yum.
No one could have predicted a quality business like this would suffer salmonella contamination. Maybe someone in HHS, FDA, Ag or the DoJ could do something. Maybe all of them. The FDA did institute recent new egg safety rules, which is good, but my issue relates more to how an operation like this can continue to be in business at all?
Last month, the Food and Drug Administration imposed mandatory safety regulations, including egg testing requirements, that many farms had already been following, according to industry experts.
"This outbreak really comes as a surprise, and it really seems to be going against the overall trend," said Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group.
The DeCosters appear to be the Goldman Sachs of factory farming with a record of contempt for the law going back to the Carter administration. If someone wanted to tackle the long history of rampant abuses in factory farming, here's your poster case. Right there in a town called "Galt" of all things (actually a coincidence as the town was founded long before Rand, but who knows, maybe the name drew the DeCoster operation there?) Or maybe we should just accept that if you want to make a free market omlette, you need to break 380,000,000 eggs.