Austin "Jack" DeCoster, owner of Quality Egg of New England (QENE) - the subject of a 2009 MFA undercover cruelty investigation - is now connected to a nationwide recall of 380 million eggs. The eggs, linked to over 200 cases of salmonella poisoning in several states, were produced by Wright County Egg in Galt, Iowa - one of DeCoster's many agribusiness operations. On August 13, the company began a recall of 228 million eggs, but on August 18 expanded the recall to 380 million eggs (or 32 million dozen-egg cartons).
Like DeCoster's Maine egg farm, Wright County Egg uses a battery-cage confinement system. Battery-caged hens are crammed four to six per file-drawer-sized cage, often living in their own waste or among rotting carcasses. In an interview for Maine Public Radio, MFA's Executive Director, Nathan Runkle, explained that "when we cram birds in cages on factory farms, where they can't spread their wings, and these birds are living in filth, the risk of spreading salmonella onto consumers is increased dramatically." Dr. Michael Greger, Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture for The Humane Society of the United States, adds that "just by switching to cage-free housing systems, the egg industry might be able to half the risk of salmonella."
DeCoster has a sordid history of immigration, environmental and animal cruelty offenses. In 2001 the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that as a repeat violator of environmental laws, he could not build hog farms in the state. In 2003 he pleaded guilty to federal immigrations charges, and earlier this year, in a landmark settlement sparked by MFA's QENE investigation, he pleaded guilty to 10 civil counts of cruelty to animals and paid over $100,000 in fines and restitution. Now, DeCoster is being sued by a Wisconsin woman, who became sickened and hospitalized after consuming eggs from Wright County Egg. Over a dozen additional lawsuits are also in the works.
The Food and Drug Administration is investigating the outbreak, focusing its attention on restaurants that may have served its patrons not only whole eggs, but egg-containing salad dressings, soups or desserts. This week the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a four-fold spike in egg-borne salmonella cases.
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