Monday, November 8, 2010

My Least Favorite Theist Of The Year

Of course the year isn't over yet and I might well change my mind before January 1, but... Austin "Jack" DeCoster has been haunting my thoughts ever since I first heard about him last summer.

Perhaps DeCoster haunts your thoughts, too.

I hope the name at least rings a bell.

Hint: He's the guy who seems to have been most responsible for that outbreak of egg-spread salmonella poisoning that sickened thousands of people.

By all accounts, DeCoster is a devout, born-again Christian - a guy who flies a Christian flag outside his business and testified before Congress that he prays several times a day for those he made sick.

According to an Aug 22 story in the Washington Post, he once fired a manager because he was an atheist.

Well, no atheist that I know of has engaged in business practices as atrocious as the Jesus-loving Mr. DeCoster.

That Washington Post story includes the following short but shocking catalog of some of those practices:

-- In 1996, DeCoster was fined $3.6 million for health and safety violations at the family's Turner egg farm, which then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich termed "as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop we have seen." Regulators found that workers had been forced to handle manure and dead chickens with their bare hands and to live in filthy trailers.

-- In 1999, the company paid $5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit involving unpaid overtime for 3,000 workers.

-- In 2001, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that DeCoster was a "repeat violator" of state environmental laws, citing violations involving the family's hog-farming operations. The family was forbidden to expand its hog-farming interests in the state.

-- Also in 2001, DeCoster Farms of Iowa settled, for $1.5 million, a complaint brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that the company had subjected 11 undocumented female workers from Mexico to a "sexually hostile work environment," including sexual assault and rape by supervisors.

-- In 2002, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the family's Maine Contract Farming branch $345,810 for an array of violations. The same year, DeCoster Egg Farms of Maine paid $3.2 million to settle a lawsuit filed in 1998 by Mexican workers alleging discrimination in housing and working conditions.

-- In 2003, Jack DeCoster paid the federal government $2.1 million as part of a plea agreement after federal agents found more than 100 undocumented workers at his Iowa egg farms. It was the largest penalty ever against an Iowa employer. Three years later, agents found 30 workers suspected of being illegal immigrants at a DeCoster farm in Iowa. And in 2007, raids at other DeCoster Iowa farms uncovered 51 more suspected undocumented workers.

-- In 2006, Ohio's Agriculture Department revoked the permits of Ohio Fresh Eggs because its new co-owners, including Hillandale founder Orland Bethel, had failed to disclose that DeCoster had put up $126 million for the purchase, far more than their $10,000, and was heavily involved in managing the company. By playing down DeCoster's role, the owners had avoided a background check into DeCoster's "habitual violator" status in Iowa. An appeals panel overturned the revocation, saying the disclosure was adequate.

-- In 2008, OSHA cited DeCoster's Maine Contract Farming for violations that included forcing workers to retrieve eggs the previous winter from inside a building that had collapsed under ice and snow.

An eye-opening Sept 21 story in the New York Times opened with the following sentences that really bring into focus the consequences of this man's operations:

On a July night in 1987, scores of elderly and chronically ill patients at Bird S. Coler Memorial Hospital in New York City began to fall violently sick with food poisoning from eggs tainted with salmonella.

"It was like a war zone," said Dr. Philippe Tassy, the doctor on call as the sickness started to rage through the hospital. By the time the outbreak ended more than two weeks later, nine people had died and about 500 people had become sick. It remains the deadliest outbreak in this country attributed to eggs infected with the bacteria known as Salmonella enteritidis.

This year, the same bacteria sickened thousands of people nationwide and led to the recall of half a billion eggs.

Despite the gap of decades, there is a crucial link between the two outbreaks: in both cases, the eggs came from farms owned by Austin J. DeCoster, one of the country’s biggest egg producers.

A July 24 story posted by the Europe Sun added these details:

In 1977 neighbors whose homes were infested with insects filed a $5 million lawsuit, claiming nose plugs and flyswatters should be the "new neighbor" kit.

In 1980, the DeCoster operation was charged with employing five 11-year-olds and a 9-year-old by the Labor department.

In 1988, 100,000 chickens burned to death in a fire and were left to decompose.

In 1992, DeCoster was charged by the state with indenturing migrant workers and denying them contact with teachers, social workers, doctors, lawyers and labor organizers.

In 1996, federal investigators found DeCoster workers living in rat and cockroach infested housing and OSHA found their drinking water contaminated with faeces. Yum.

As far as I'm concerned, the fact that Jesus never came down from the sky and kicked this follower of his right in the ass is further proof of his non-existence.

And the fact that no Christian church that I know of has excommunicated DeCoster, condemned his actions the way they regularly condemn so many others, or threatened him and those like him with hellfire reveals an awful lot about the nature of the "absolute morality" they claim to embrace.

As for those conservative Republicans and others who are so quick to condemn government and regulations and inspectors but never seem to have a harsh word for even the worst scoundrels in the business world whose egregious actions put the lives of us all at risk... well, I suppose you can guess what I think of them.


  1. Savory. I'm sure I'll sleep better knowing all this.
    I try to buy eggs from companies that at least express concern about the health of its suppliers' chickens, but who can know. One egg looks pretty much like another, as long as it doesn't have dried poop on it.
    Speaking of which, what kind of intelligent design is it, when the same bird chute is used to emit poop and food for humans?
    I'm glad human women evolved separate channels for egress (and ingress).
    Do you think maybe gOd invented birds in His own image and mammals just evolved afterward without any afterthought? If so, DeCoster will really be in trouble for abusing all those birds when he dies and meets Super Chicken. Bucka-bock.

  2. Wow. I mean, it's long been known that any business that calls itself Christian is usually crap, but that man definitely takes the crap cake. I'm almost impressed with how inethical someone can be and still not be censured by their religious community.

  3. And still the madness continues:

    "Producer behind new Ohio egg recall has ties to DeCoster" - Nov 8, 2010

  4. Man isn't that just par for the course though? I mean, who cares what he does here as long as he repents he has an eternity of perfection to look forward too. /scoffs... I wish people would just grow up and get over themselves already.