Massive Egg Recall Prompts Hearing on Federal Food Safety System

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) and Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak (D-MI) yesterday announced that the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing on Sept. 14. scrutinizing the safety of the food supply “in light of the recent outbreak of Salmonella associated with eggs.”

hyvee-eggs.jpgThe nationwide Salmonella outbreak, which has sickened at least 1,300 people, is linked to two Iowa companies, Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, who together have recalled 550 million eggs this month.
The committee has asked Austin “Jack” DeCoster, the owner of Wright County Egg, and Orland Bethel, owner of Hillandale Farms to testify in the hearing. DeCoster has a long history of environmental, animal cruelty, and worker safety violations.
Wednesday, Waxman and Stupak sent letters to the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture requesting documents and information relating to the egg recall.  Monday, the Chairmen requested documents on the Salmonella outbreak and voluntary egg recall from Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms of Iowa. The letters specifically request any documents related to the alleged violations, which have been widely reported in the media.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), chair of the committee that oversees FDA and USDA appropriations, also sent a letter to both agencies this week asking why they did not take action against DeCoster farms, which operates Wright County Egg, in light of their longtime record of violations.

“Workers were forced to handle manure and dead chickens with their bare hands and to live in filthy trailers, state environmental laws were violated repeatedly, and the company failed to disclose its investment in egg operations in another state to avoid a background check,” writes DeLauro in her letter to the agencies. “This pattern of regulatory non-compliance by the DeCoster operations should have served as a warning to regulators and warranted additional scrutiny of the company’s ability to comply with food safety standards.”

DeLauro also wants to know what the FDA knew about DeCoster’s compliance with the newly-implemented egg rule, what role egg graders from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service may have had at the plant, and whether any recalled eggs were sold into federal nutrition programs like the National School Lunch Program.