We have previously commented on Supply Chain Matters about the very large recall of eggs in the U.S. that occurred in August. On August 13, Wright County Farms of Galt, Iowa, an entity associated with DeCoster Farms, voluntarily recalled over 228 million “shell eggs” because of the potential for Salmonella Enteritidis contamination. These eggs were distributed to food wholesalers, distribution centers, supermarkets and foodservice companies across eight U.S. states.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture(USDA)  have since conducted separate investigation to determine the source of the contamination and a strong suspicion points to the feed provided to the various hens, although no definitive conclusions have been released to date.

The latest twists to this ongoing incident came transpired this week in various print and televised media as Austin “Jack” DeCoster and his son Peter DeCoster were scheduled to testify before a U.S. Congressional subcommittee meeting.  This Congressional body asked both men to come prepared to explain what steps have been taken to address the contamination that occurred at their two farms in Iowa.

In a classic move, both men indicate that they believe an ingredient sold to them by an outside supplier was possibly to blame for the contamination outbreak.  That’s right, if there is a problem, it surely has to be the supplier who is suspect. Yet, various reports from governmental inspectors seem to indicate that feed shipped to these farms was subsequently contaminated by being either co-located or coming in contact with unsanitary conditions on the chicken farms themselves.  Government inspectors described conditions at the Wright County henhouses as including mice, maggots and piles of manure as high as eight feet.

Doesn’t that make you feel wholesome and good!

According to news reports, a U.S. House subcommittee also found that Wright County Egg had received hundreds of positive salmonella readings in the last two years, which should have also raised red flags.

But there is something even more profound to this ongoing story.  Jack DeCoster stated in his testimony to the following: “We were horrified to learn that our eggs may have made people sick and we apologize to every one who may have been sickened by eating our eggs.  I pray several times each day for all of them and for their improved health.”

Here is this blog’s response to Mr. DeCoster- too little and too late, my friend.  The damage and the effects have already been done.  What are you personally going to do about it, and what steps are your various farms going to take to assure consumers that these incidents will not continue?

If there is any learning that can be gained for all of these types of incidents is that the time for sincere apologies is when the problem is initially discovered, and not weeks later, when all the lawyers and public relations teams have been called-in to ascertain the damage recovery plan.  In this new era of social-media and instant news, the negative impressions and reactions have already been made, and the virtual world has already weighed-in on their opinions of Wright County Farms and parent DeCoster Farms.  The most scathing indictment within the blogosphere came from Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, who penned his Corporate Rotten Eggs commentary which described his previous dealings with the DeCoster conglomerate while serving as U.S. Secretary of Labor under the Clinton Administration. The impressions are made and consumers want to know, what are you going to do about it?

Jack DeCoster indicates that his companies grew too fast, still acting like a small farms.  Yet others describe the DeCoster operation as ‘big agribusiness”, and as Professor Reich noted, the current national salmonella outbreak is just the latest in a long series of DeCoster corporate crimes. “He’s fostered a culture that disregards any law standing in the way of profits. Along the way, DeCoster has abused the environment, animals, his employees, and his customers.”, noted Reich.

In the end, which statements will consumers really believe?  Perhaps we should ask all those who were actually sickened by salmonella, or who had to work on these suspect farms.

Consumers expect that products are safe, meet superior quality standards, and are produced in an environmentally and worker safe manner.  Consumers should not expect to settle for apologies and a wish for a speedy recovery, but some real action by DeCoster to insure clean farms and a safe egg supply.

Bob Ferrari