Jack DeCoster, Hillandale Farms: Culprits in Massive Egg Recall?

Egg king Jack DeCoster owns farms that produced some of the tainted eggs.

ByABC News
August 19, 2010, 6:02 PM

Aug. 20, 2010 — -- A second Iowa egg farm has ordered a major recall of eggs today in an effort to stem the outbreak of salmonella.

The voluntary recall was announced by Hillandale Farms. The company is located about 100 miles from the Wright County Eggs, based in Galt, Iowa, which has previously ordered a recall of 380 million eggs in one of the largest egg recalls in history.

"There have been laboratory-confirmed salmonella enteritidis illnesses associated with the shell eggs," Hillandale Farms noted in a press release. "[T]he investigation is ongoing."

It was not immediately determined how large the Hillandale recall will be. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is not investigating any additional egg farms. Instead, the agency is now "looking for commonalities" among the affected farms, such as where these farms were buying feed and the facility that provided the farms with young hens, according to Sherri McGarry, director of the Division of Public Health and Biostatistics at the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN).

"My guess it's the investigation is nowhere near complete. There is the possibility this contamination spreads to many farms," former FDA Associate Commissioner William Hubbard told ABC News' Brian Hartman.

The eggs that are believed to be tainted were sold under the following brand names: Lucerne, Mountain Dairy, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Albertson, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, James Farms, Glenview, Mountain Dairy, Ralph's, Boomsma's, Lund, Dutch Farms, Kemps and Pacific Coast.

For a full list of egg brands and plant numbers affected by this recall, visit the Egg Safety Center at http://www.eggsafety.org.

Nearly 2,000 people have been sickened by salmonella linked to eggs in recent months, a number authorities say is likely to rise.

So far the majority of the recalled eggs have come from Wright County Eggs, putting the focus on the company's owner Jack DeCoster.

DeCoster is no stranger to controversy. He's been involved in legal cases that have forced him to settle with the federal government for hiring illegal immigrants, for tolerating sexual harassment at his company, and has faced a litany of animal cruelty charges. DeCoster has also paid millions of dollars in fines and settlements over the years stemming from complaints about the health violations at his farms.

DeCoster, 75, is at the helm of the family-run egg farm Wright County Eggs based in Galt, Iowa. His farm, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, is responsible for providing salmonella-tainted eggs to 15 of the 25 restaurants where patrons have fallen ill.

The recall is the latest complaint lodged against DeCoster during his multi-decade career as an egg farmer.

One of the more egregious was filed in the summer of 1996 when DeCoster was made to pay more than $3 million in fines after the U.S. Labor Department found dead chickens being picked up by workers with bare hands. The complaint also stated that DeCoster's workers also lived beside manure and rat-infested trailers, according to the Associated Press. The complaint led to a boycott of DeCoster's eggs by several major supermarkets.

In 2000, the Iowa attorney general dubbed DeCoster a "habitual violator" of the state's environmental laws and ordered him to pay a $150,000 fine. DeCoster had failed to properly dispose of the hog and chicken manure and had let it run into a nearby creek.