Iowa egg farm owner gives congress few answers

23-09-2010 | | |

The head of an Iowa egg farm linked to over a thousand incidences of salmonella has apologised in congress.

Austin DeCoster, owner of Wright County Egg, said he was “horrified” to learn that his products might have been the cause of the illnesses. The CEO of Hillandale Farms another implicated company, Orland Bethel, cited his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and did not answer questions.

Hillandale Farms and Wright County Egg recalled a half-billion eggs in August after tests of products turned up potentially positive for the bacterium Salmonella enteritidis.

The following extract is from the hearing’s Briefing Memo:
FDA investigators inspected multiple facilities of Wright County Egg from August 12 through August 30, 2010. In the course of their investigation, officials found chicken manure reaching eight feet high, employees who did not wear or change protective clothing when moving from one laying house to another, and many live mice throughout the facilities. Inspectors also observed wild birds sitting near and flying over grain bins that contained chicken feed. In total, six samples taken from the facilities and feed supply tested positive for Salmonella Enteritidis.

FDA also inspected facilities of Hillandale Farms of Iowa. During inspections from August 19 through August 26, 2010, investigators found numerous unsealed rodent holes, liquid manure “streaming” from a crack in the manure pit, and uncaged hens tracking manure throughout the laying facilities. FDA found Salmonella Enteritidis in a sample of spent water from an egg wash station.

The chairman of the House Energy and Commerce oversight and investigations subcommittee, Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., said the outbreak paints “a very disturbing picture of egg production in America.”

A subcommittee investigation found that Wright County Egg had received hundreds of positive results for salmonella in the past two years, including 73 samples that were potentially positive for Salmonella enteritidis.

Although Bethel declined to testify, another Hillandale employee, Duane Mangskau, said the recall has forced the company to take a hard look at its operations.

Filthy conditions
DeCosters’ son Peter, the company’s CEO, took most of the questions and took issue with Food and Drug Administration findings of filthy conditions at the farms, saying the agency’s reports were only partially true. He said the company believes an ingredient purchased from a supplier may be to blame for the salmonella outbreak.

Peter DeCoster said the company has made “sweeping biosecurity and food safety changes” following the recall and will remove all chicken flocks that have not been vaccinated against the strain of salmonella linked to the illnesses. Such vaccinations are not required by the government. Onsite inspections and testing also will increase, he said.

“We were horrified to learn that our eggs may have made people sick,” DeCoster Sr. said in the statement he read to the subcommittee. “We apologise to every one who may have been sickened by eating our eggs.”

The specific cause of the egg outbreak is still unknown, and the FDA is still investigating.