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The New York Times has an interesting piece about Austin J. DeCoster, one of the country’s biggest egg producers, and the man whose companies seem principally implicated not just in the current salmonella outbreak, but in those of the past.

Here’s how the Times frames the story:

“Mr. DeCoster’s frequent run-ins with regulators over labor, environmental and immigration violations have been well cataloged. But the close connections between Mr. DeCoster’s egg empire and the spread of salmonella in the United States have received far less scrutiny.

“While some state regulators took steps to clamp down on tainted eggs, the federal government was much slower to act, despite entreaties from state officials alarmed at the growing toll.

“Farms tied to Mr. DeCoster were a primary source of Salmonella enteritidis in the United States in the 1980s, when some of the first major outbreaks of human illness from the bacteria in eggs occurred, according to health officials and public records. At one point, New York and Maryland regulators believed DeCoster eggs were such a threat that they banned sales of the eggs in their states.”

And, the story goes on:

“By the end of that decade, regulators in New York had forced Mr. DeCoster to allow salmonella testing of his farms and, along with other states, pushed the egg industry in the eastern United States to improve safety, which led to a drop in illness.

“But the efforts were patchwork. For example, Iowa, where Mr. DeCoster has five farms tied to the current outbreak, required no testing.

“And the federal government, at times under pressure from Congress and the industry to limit regulation, spent two decades debating national egg safety standards. New rules finally went into effect in July — too late to prevent the current round of illness.

“Records released by Congressional investigators last week suggest that tougher oversight of Mr. DeCoster’s Iowa operations might have prevented the outbreak, which federal officials say is the largest of its type in the nation’s history, with more than 1,600 reported illnesses and probably tens of thousands more that have gone unreported.”
KC's View:
And yet, as has been reported, Congress seems to be dragging its feet on new food safety legislation. There would seem to be no better argument for a comprehensive, nationwide, consistent and persistent food safety policy, rather than the patchwork of regulations and agencies that we have now that simply don;t seem to be doing the job.

As for DeCoster, there ought to be a full-press legal effort to nail this guy. If the Times is right, he has a lot of responsibility not just for a series of salmonella crises, but also for the gradual eroding of consumer confidence in the nation’s food supply. If he’s guilty, put him in jail. And while he’s there, make him subsist on a diet of eggs. His own damn eggs.

But there is some good news.

DeCoster is one of two men “scheduled to testify before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee Wednesday,” according to the AP. “Members of the panel have asked the two men to come prepared to discuss the filthy conditions found at their farms,” including “manure and bug and rodent infestations.”

I hope they get roasted.