Not Much Progress at Congressional Hearing on Egg Recall

Congress held hearings Wednesday on the recent egg recall while experts at a special animal agriculture meeting at the USDA gave their opinions on what do to with producers who habitually ignore safety rules and practices.

Published on: Sep 23, 2010

Little new information was brought to light Wednesday during a Congressional hearing into the salmonella outbreak that caused a recall of more than 500 million eggs. The head of Wrigth County Egg Austin DeCoster and his son Peter, who runs the facility in Iowa that was the source of most of the recalled eggs, apologized during the hearing to the more than 1,600 people who became ill during the outbreak.

This is not the first time the DeCoster family has been found to have sanitation violations. Over the years they have paid millions in fines following incidents in Maine and then Maryland before the latest situation in Iowa.

"How is it possible that, after all this time, we have a DeCoster egg producer involved in a half-billion egg recall?" asked Representative Bruce Braley, D-Iowa.

The Food and Drug Administration had never inspected the Iowa facilities prior to the recall despite the long record of violations against the DeCosters. Although the family points to contaminated feed as the cause of the outbreak, FDA Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein says there may be more to it than that.

We believe there are multiple potential sources of Salmonella enteritidis on these farms," said Sharfstein, adding that problems with pest control and manure handling could have contributed to the spread of salmonella within the facility.

Meanwhile down the street from Capitol Hill at the USDA experts were attending a meeting about issues in animal agriculture, one issue being the very few irresponsible producer who may cause trouble for the rest.

"Having represented agribusiness I can tell you there are bad actors," said long time ag consultant David Brubaker. "The rest of the industry is always reluctant to come down on the bad actors, even though everybody knows who they are and they are habitual. So the industry has to get smarter about policing themselves."

Penn State University Extension expert Greg Martin agreed with Brubaker that producers need to be self-policing and to encourage all producers to do the best job they can. However Martin says there is no substitute for good, reasonable government oversight. The FDA has put forward new egg regulations that went into effect July 9.

"This particular farm will be scrutinized even more closely from now on," Martin said.