Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The egg recall: Austin "Jack" DeCoster not the "Christian businessman" he's cracked up to be

Certainly, most everyone has heard of the massive egg recall this past week. 550 million eggs - that's 550,000,000 - or close to an average of 5 eggs per household in the US. Did you check the eggs in your fridge when you heard the news?

I for one didn't, because we get all our eggs from an organic farm that lets its chickens roam freely out in a pasture. The eggs are the best I have ever tasted - the yolks are huge, round, and dark yellow/orange. They are so tasty that people have asked if I added cheese to my scrambled eggs when they were, in fact, just plain eggs.

Don't these ladies look happy?

So I didn't really pay any attention to the whole egg recall. I mean, these days, factory-produced food is being recalled all the time, and it's hard to even keep up with.

Then this weekend, I must have been bored or something, I clicked on this article. My interest suddenly peaked when I came across a familiar name, "Jack" DeCoster. I had heard mention of him many times before, and it was only ever positive.

Austin "Jack" DeCoster, right, sits with Timothy O'Brien, a lawyer representing Maine Contract Farming, LLC, in 10 counts of animal cruelty stemming from an undercover investigation in 2009 by Mercy For Animals at the Turner egg farm. Maine Contract Farming, LLC, has agreed to pay $134,674.11 in fines, restitutions, and aid to inspectors after pleading guilty to the charges.

First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana and their college, Hyles-Anderson College, had lifted him up countless times as the example of a hardworking, Christian businessman who uses his hard-earned business empire to financially aid and further the cause of Christ, namely by donating large sums of money to their ministries. In fact, the "modern 1,500 seat DeCoster Dining Hall facility" at the college is named in honor of this generous donor.

Imagine my surprise when I read these news. The more I looked into it, the more apparent it became that Mr. DeCoster uses anything but integrity in his business operations. Such behavior would be unbecoming of unbelievers, even downright criminal - how much more of someone who is revered as a Christian with a burden for supporting local churches?

Could it be that this latest egg recall was simply a one-time mishap? Hardly. DeCoster has a record of violations that goes back at least three decades:
  • 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, denying them contact with teachers, social workers, doctors, lawyers and labor organizers.
  • Prior to 1993: Even before he built his first large-scale Iowa pig farming operation, Austin J. “Jack” DeCoster had already drawn the serious attention of environmental and labor law enforcement authorities. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection had brought a 14-count action against him for activities that were polluting both air and water. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had investigated DeCoster in connection with farm workers’ reports that they had been exposed to lethal asbestos in DeCoster chicken houses. There had also been a federal suit brought against DeCoster under the Migrant Agricultural Workers Protection Act, based on workers’ reports of unfit housing, and of illegal threats and harassment ongoing at DeCoster plants.
  • In 1996, federal investigators found DeCoster workers living in rat and cockroach infested housing and the egg operation was fined $3.6 million. At these facilities, federal investigators found that workers had been forced to handle manure and dead chickens with unprotected, bare hands, and that the trailers serving as worker housing were filthy and infested. Then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich described the conditions at the Maine DeCoster egg operations as “among the worst” found in the U.S. "The conditions in this migrant farm site are as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop we have seen,'' said Labor Secretary Robert Reich; "I thought I was going to faint and I was only there a few minutes,'' said Cesar Britos, an attorney representing DeCoster workers, after entering a barn."
  • June, 2000: DeCoster was named Iowa’s first “habitual violator” of state environmental laws, after losing a succession of enforcement cases brought against him by the Iowa Attorney General. At the time, DeCoster Farms’ pig-feeding business confined hundreds of thousands of pigs, and was generating more manure than it could contain in its underground pits. When the company simply spread its excess manure across open land, and transported huge volumes of it along open county roads, manure flowed into public waterways, causing hazardous pollution. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources ordered DeCoster immediately to construct concrete manure-storage structures, and assessed him a $150,000 civil penalty. DeCoster’s “habitual violator” status raised applicable penalties for noncompliance from $5,000 to $25,000 per day, and barred DeCoster from constructing any new confinement feeding operations.
  • In 2001, dead hens intermingled with live ones during truck transport sparked a complaint to the Department of Agriculture.
truck transport

  • June, 2002: OSHA imposed a fine of $345,810 on Maine Contract Farming LLC (a DeCoster business successor) and several other related entities in Turner, Maine, based on findings that they had refused to remedy hazardous conditions that were continually placing workers in danger. At the time of this OSHA action, the egg farm already had a documented history of roof collapses. Violations listed in the June 2002 OSHA order included exposed asbestos, defective eyewash stations, hazardous electrical equipment, uninspected fire extinguishers, unsanitary shower facilities, and fall hazards. Commenting on the OSHA penalty, an Auburn, Maine lawyer who had represented 80 workers in a pay-violation case against DeCoster told press that Maine Contract Farming and its associates were “still DeCoster Egg Farm,” and “still operated by Austin DeCoster.”
  • July, 2002: DeCoster Egg Farms of Maine agreed to pay $3.2 million to settle a discrimination lawsuit brought against it by Mexican workers who suffered deplorable working conditions while working at the Farms. The workers asserted that DeCoster Egg Farms had exploited their vulnerable immigration status in order to avoid obligations to comply with labor laws. The plight of the workers was so substantial that the Mexican government joined in the case, and made the case a cause celebre.
  • 2001 – 2003: In 2001, the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) filed a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint against DeCoster Farms in Wright County, Iowa, on behalf of female workers who reported that they had been sexually assaulted and raped by supervisors at DeCoster Farms. EEOC reviewed the complaint, and sought an injunction against DeCoster. This resulted in an order requiring DeCoster Farms to enforce federal anti-harassment and non-retaliation policies at its facility, and to cooperate with EEOC’s ongoing investigation into the facts underlying the workers’ complaint. EEOC ultimately ruled for the workers, but DeCoster would not cooperate towards a settlement payment. EEOC therefore commenced a formal proceeding against DeCoster, which ended in 2003, when DeCoster agreed to pay $1.3 million in damages to 11 workers, $100,000 to ICADV, and $125,000 to any additional victims who might be identified within a year of the settlement decree.
  • August, 2003: A. J. DeCoster pleaded guilty to federal charges that he had knowingly and repeatedly hired illegal immigrants at his Northern Iowa egg plants. The charges resembled others that DeCoster had faced and settled in 1989, for his illegal hiring practices at Maine-based egg operations. Under the terms of the Iowa plea agreement, DeCoster paid the federal government $1.25 million, and another $875,000 in restitution, to cover some of the government’s enforcement and monitoring costs at his plants. DeCoster was also required to pay for unannounced facility and record inspections at his plants, for five years following the date of his plea.
  • June, 2006: During the third immigration raid of DeCoster egg operations in Iowa since 2001, law enforcement officials confirmed that DeCoster was still engaging in illegal hiring practices at his six Iowa egg facilities. Thirty-six workers were detained in the course of this enforcement operation. 8• May, 2007: Former DeCoster manager Cacy Cantwell was granted a hearing before the Maine Human Rights Commission on his complaint that DeCoster had fired him and stripped him of company housing on the sole grounds that Cantwell is an atheist. A Commission investigator who reviewed the evidence found a reasonable basis for Cantwell’s assertion of religious discrimination. Cantwell supplemented his Human Rights Commission complaint with a separate filing against DeCoster at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • September, 2007: Federal immigration investigators raided the same six DeCoster egg farms in Iowa that had been raided by officials in June, 2006. Children were among the 51 illegally hired workers found on the premises, this time.
  • August, 2008: OSHA cited DeCoster surrogate Maine Contract Farming for willful violations of worker safety laws, based on findings that during the prior Winter, the company had forced workers to salvage eggs from inside a dangerously unstable structure that had collapsed from the weight of ice and snow. OSHA called this company misconduct “astonishing” and “unacceptable.” For actions that exposed workers in other buildings to additional collapse hazards, and which allowed workers to operate powered industrial trucks in a way that exposed them to the risk of crush injuries, OSHA issued the egg operation two additional citations for hazards that OSHA classified as likely to result in death or serious injury to workers.
  • Workers' drinking water has been found contaminated with feces by OSHA and after a conciliatory "free" chicken banquet offered to workers, they were docked for their time eating it, reported the Portland Press Herald.
This laundry list of violations is a testament to the uselessness of the government agencies involved. Sure, they fined DeCoster's operations, but they don't seem to have succeeded at making him change the way he conducts business, or else withdraw his business license(es). I guess as long as he kept paying them high fines, they didn't mind letting him carry on (and on and on, and expand into hog farming, as well as into other states).

Now, I am not an animal rights activist by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, I would never even think of treating our dog this way, and believe me, we have no intention of eating her, nor will I particularly care when she eventually dies - at which point we will simply replace her. Animals are not human beings. I neither worship animals, nor the environment. But I DO greatly respect and care about human lives. The reason why I care about the housing and treatment of these animals is because it affects their health, which in turn affects the health of those who eat the products they provide us with (in this case, eggs), as well as the health of those employees taking care of them.

Don't let the sickly look of these chickens fool you - they lay high quality eggs, in spite of their obviously disastrous health!

The food industry in the United States must be one of the most corrupt industries in our country, second-worst probably only to the pharmaceutical industry (and the two are much more connected than one might suspect). Among these crooks, this "Christian businessman" stands out as particularly ruthless and corrupt.

Did you know that people can and do die from salmonella poisoning? Did you know that during pregnancy, it can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth? Did you know that even in the best case scenario of "just" getting diarrhea, nausea, etc. this leads to lost work, a miserable 24-48 hours of sickness, and a completely unnecessary hassle all around?

Yum, yum!!

And why? Because of someone's greed for more money in less time. How do people go to sleep in their fancy houses, drive around in their fancy cars, and live a luxurious life knowing that it is financed by the health and lives of those to whom they sell their dishonest products, and the health and lives of those whom they employ?

And then for phony pastors to lift these people up as examples of Christianity, for no other reason than that they want to keep the donations coming! As if God depends on dishonest crooks to finance furthering the gospel. Hyles-Anderson college pays most of its employees ridiculously low wages that are far below minimum wage, but offers them perks such as free tuition at their Christian schools for the employees' kids, and free meals in the "DeCoster Dining Hall", where I'm guessing they get their namesake's eggs for free or at a great discount. Wow, ruining your family and your health are thrown in for free when you work for the college!!

I guess birds of a feather flock together.


  1. Thank you for this post. I will never buy another egg unless I know the chickens. Years ago, we had our own chickens. The animal cruelty reminds me of the puppy mills run by some Amish that are sold to pet stores. Proverbs 12:10 A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast:... (KJV). Then there's the slave labor- we pray for captives to be set free.

  2. This has made me so glad that we get most of our produce from the local farmers market, and our eggs come from the Amish that raise them organically and cage free as we.

    Eventually I am hoping to move out of town and onto a larger piece of land where we can raise our own food and be done with it.

    I am a proponent of animal welfare, not animal rights.the animal rights people have flipped their lids. Animals are not the same as people and do not deserving the same rights as humans. God did how ever give them to us with a purpose and we are told that the righteous man respects the life of his animal... those chickens are not being treated with respect.

    I personally have 3 pet dogs, I treat them and feed them well ( good food keeps them healthy just like us). They each have a purpose be it protection, or vermin control. I am softer than you I suppose, because I will care when they pass because they have been great companions (which I believe is part of the reason man was given the dog, but not as a replacement for humans). I do, and cannot for the life of me understand the women who chose to have pets over children though.. They seem to regard animal life over human and act as if their pet is as important as someones child.. As much as I enjoy the company of my pets, if I had to chose between them and a child well then I would have no dogs.

  3. Taryn,

    Thank you for the verse. I meant to include it at the end of the post, but forgot to do so. I'm glad you brought it up.


    I think it's wonderful when people have pets that they love and care for. Personally, I used to LOVE having a family dog growing up, and even had him sleeping in my room when he would agree to. Since having kids, I have just never had the time to bother with building a relationship with our dog, although our kids all love her dearly. To me, she is simply fulfilling the useful purpose of being a GREAT watchdog. I'm sure the fact that she lives outdoors exclusively because I am allergic to her dander has not helped make us feel closer. But again, I think it's great when people have a pet they love without treating it like a fellow human being, or substitute having pets for having children.

  4. @taryn

    Wow, I have never seen an Amish puppy mill, interesting how certain groups can be so different from region to region. Most of the puppymills here consist of barns behind trailers in the scummier backwoods areas.

    I don't actually know if the people we get our eggs from are Amish or Mennonite, we have a large community of both. My husband topically picks the eggs up while I pick out my produce, but i will have to try to strike up a conversation with one of the ladies next time.

  5. We had our own hens a year or two ago and I wish we had them back. We have enough friends to keep us supplied with eggs from time to time.

    As with organic food, you pay more for better quality. Organic, free-range eggs from the mega-mart are ridiculously expensive. It is financially worth it to raise your own hens if you have space.

  6. Taryn makes a good point:

    Then there's the slave labor- we pray for captives to be set free.

    You see the work of slavery every time you visit a Walmart or Dollar General when you see a product marked: Made in China or other fascist nation.

  7. Darrell @ StuffFundiesLike.com linked to your blog. I gotta admit I never in my life would've guessed the Anderson's to be buying free range organic anything. Kudos to you for doing that & having the courage to admit it in fundamentalist circles, from an animal rights fan.

  8. I would like to add 1) We never bought books etc. with talking animals, monster puppets-muppets, etc. for our children and will not buy them for our grandchildren 2) the reporter Lisa Ling did a story on puppy mills which showed some Amish 3)Christian Light Education and Rod and Staff(Mennonite) may have early reading programs without talking animals etc.

  9. Men like DeCoster just make me more confused. How am I supposed to know the "real" Christians and pastors from the phony ones?

  10. I normally don't agree with what you say, but with this one, you totally hit the nail on the head. This man, DeCoster, is a disgrace to the name of Christianity; he continually flouts the laws, puts lives in danger, and gets off with only having to pay a fine. It's absolutely horrible. He doesn't even seem to care that Jesus himself said that we should "render to Ceaser what is Ceaser's, and to God, what is God's" (I'm paraphrasing here), meaning, in a nutshell, we should obey the laws of the land as long as they don't interfere with what God's laws are. I could go on and on about this (I even wrote a paper for one of my Bible classes in college (I went to Biola) about the topic of obeying authority).

    But is DeCoster doing this? Nooooo. He's not living a Christian example by this AT ALL and it's disgusting behavior. It's people like him that give a very bad name to Christianity. The fact that he's only getting off by paying fines is laughable; this guy should have been shut down YEARS ago.

  11. Mrs. Anderson,

    You sound like me when it comes to how you feel about pets.

    We had them when the children were growing up, and took good care of them. They served a purpose, sort of. The cat caught gophers and the dogs scared people away (I'm not sure how well!) from our ranch.

    However, I cannot fathom the animal "worship" I see in our society. I have often been seen as a mean person because I refuse to support animal shelters. When the day comes that PEOPLE aren't in need of help, then I'll reconsider my position. But people are shallow and would rather help a cute puppy than an elderly person. In my opinion, that's just plain wrong.

    I'm not THAT old, but this world and its priorities really concern me.

    We have six happy and healthy children, and I thank God for our blessings every day. As parents, we have not had to deal with so many of the awful problems that plague modern times. It's sad, because it wouldn't mean much if fifty years ago you were happy to say that none of your children had turned away from God, used drugs, drank excessively, had a child out of wedlock, was GAY, unemployeed, and a host of other problems that are running rampant today.

    I count my blessings, every day.

    Sorry if this was off-topic.

  12. Elizabeth,

    great points! We had chickens until a couple of years ago, but our yard is not that big, and they were drawing too many flies. I really, really hope that one day we can move farther out of the city, and live on property large enough to keep some livestock for our family. We are paying an arm and a leg to get local, raw milk every week, and local, organic meat, and I'd love to instead raise our own some day.


    I don't know why you'd think that we like to eat junk just because we believe the Bible. It's not like there's anything godly, Christian, or conservative about supporting Big Agra. Our family is 100% organic, from sources as local as possible (not easy living in the desert), and we only use all-natural products around the house, for body care, etc. I doubt that when the Israelites left Egypt with all their cattle, they had to get it out of knee-deep excrement at a feed lot first.


    I have heard of a lot of people who do not allow books with talking animals, and I can see their point in a society that thinks humans are animals and vice versa. Personally, we do not have that conviction. There are numerous accounts in the Bible of animals who speak, including the animals in heaven that surround God's throne. Most books that fall into that category today really do give the animal too many human attributes, but I have seen some exceptions to this rule that I found completely innocent (such as a historical fiction book written about Lewis & Clark from the perspective of a dog that accompanied them on their trip).

    The reason why I do not like or use the curricula you mentioned is because they are written by people who believe in works salvation (repentance from sin), and who do not believe in the eternal security of the believer.


    the best way is by knowing the Bible well for yourself, and seeing if their words and actions line up with God's commands.


    Thanks, well said!

    Happy Mom of Six,

    thank you for your many kind and encouraging comments lately!

  13. We stopped using the Amish readers because of works salvation but was unaware of it with CLE(used their readers, history texts in younger grades) and R&S(enjoyed their young children storybooks). They both are KJV-only. We used mostly Abeka(KJV). For us, no talking animals has to do with evolution theory. Keepersofthefaith.com has good articles and book reviews(KJV). They sell BJUP for history.

  14. Taryn, the no talking animals thing also has to do with us not allowing magic etc. I know one or two animals talked in the Bible, and I think it's possible some may talk in heaven, but it's not a "normal" thing and usually the books that have that have magic and stuff in them. That's also why I keep my children away from "fairy" tales as well.

  15. Our eggs cost 45 cents a dozen, were not part of the recall, and I bought a new dress at Kohl's last week.

  16. Humbly- I did a little reading on Revelation 4 and it's suppose to be related to Ezekiel 1:10-13(living creatures) and Ezekiel 10:14-15(cherubims)- Halley's Bible Handbook which I don't always agree with. I could be wrong and appreciate your insight. If this is true then the two times animals spoke were times of disobedience/rebellion.

  17. I was reading all of your blog and found it amazing that you have all these children and take such good care of them.... I am not critical of your beliefs, since we all have a right to what we feel. I am a christian and I am very conservative. Not to the extent that you are, however much more than most.. I believe in being holy and accountable to God in the old fashioned way of long ago...

    God is the same yesterday, today and forever. People have changed but not God. There was one thing you said that did upset me greatly.. this was your statement.

    "Now, I am not an animal rights activist by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, I would never even think of treating our dog this way, and believe me, we have no intention of eating her, nor will I particularly care when she eventually dies - at which point we will simply replace her. Animals are not human beings."

    I have three dogs that have literally saved my life.. I was married 27 years to the father of my children. I have been divorced 16 years. I am divorced only because of his adultry. I have never remarried and I don't even date anyone. I try to honor God with my life and my body.. To me my dogs are gifts from God. They are to be loved and held in high esteem. For some of us that have grown children and no grandchildren, our dogs are our children. I personally believe there will be dogs and other animals in heaven. As Noah was called to take two of each kind of animal into the ark, this proves the importance of them to me.. I am greatly for the rights of animals to live and be treated with love. I see them as gifts from God...

    My dogs love me more than anyone other than God and my mother and children have ever loved me. They have given me comfort and joy.. It hurts my feelings that you have very little regard for animals. They are feeling and caring beings. They show far more love than most people I have ever known in my life.

    I am not being mean.. Please don't think I wish to be. It's just that perhaps your life is filled with so much other love. Some of us are not this lucky... Please reconsider your comments. I am sure you can't possibly think as little of your dog as your words came off to me...

    Again, I love your blog and am enjoying reading about your children, your meal planning and all the daily activities of being a mother..


  18. That was such an excellent piece of journalistic work! Thank you so much for that. This was very professional. Dunno if you're a professional writer, but if you're not, you should be. (Have not perused your site, yet.) You've shed light on an important topic and given light on a man upon whom light needs to fall.

  19. That DeCoster is a slimy businessman who hides his abuses behind the veil of his "Christian" faith should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the history of FBC Hammond. That "church" has been a breeding ground of sexual and physical abuse for decades.


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