Wed., September 22, 2010 9:57am (EDT)

Egg Farmers At Center Of Salmonella Outbreak Speak Out
By Scott Hensley
Updated: 4 years ago

Even after recalls of a half-billion eggs and more than 1,600 people getting sick from eggs contaminated with salmonella, we still haven't heard from the family tied to the farms at the center of the outbreak.

Today, we will. Chicken farmer Austin "Jack" DeCoster is set to testify before a House panel in Washington. Until now, DeCoster hasn't spoken publicly on the problems.

His son Peter, who runs Wright County Egg's farms, is also expected to be at the noon hearing. The Des Moines Register got a copy of their prepared testimony.

Hear are some highlights.

The DeCosters were shocked by the news that salmonella-tainted eggs they produced may have hurt people. Jack's testimony says:

We were horrified to learn that our eggs may have made people sick. 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.

The rapid growth of the family's egg business created problems:

Over the years, we have grown to be pretty big in producing eggs. Unfortunately we got big quite a while before we stopped acting like we were small. What I mean by that is we were big before we started adopting sophisticated procedure to be sure we met all of the government requirements.

Peter DeCoster will explain how the Wright County operation works and what the family has done to improve quality:

While we always believed we were doing the right thing, it is now very clear that we must do more.

In his testimony, Peter DeCoster points a finger toward a supplier of ingredients for chicken feed for blame.

At this time, we cannot be absolutely certain of the root cause of the contamination of eggs we produced. However, the Committe may want to know at we view the most likely root cause of the contamination to be meat and bone meal that was an ingredient in our feed.

Last month, Philip Brasher, who has been covering the story for the Register, told NPR that Jack DeCoster has been a controversial figure on Iowa's agricultural scene since moving from Maine and setting up industrial farming operations in the state.

His company "had a whole series of environmental violations involving the manure from his hog farms and got into continual trouble with state regulators," Brasher said. And it "quickly became a poster child for what was wrong with large-scale agriculture to people who didnt want to see farming go in that direction."

Between 2008 and 2010, some 73 samples taken from the Wright County operations were "potentially positive" for salmonella, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Wednesday's New York Times delves into the history of the DeCoster egg business and links to salmonella outbreaks going back decades.

Paul Blake, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official involved in salmonella investigations in the 1980s, told the paper, "When we were in the thick of it, the name that came up again and again was DeCoster Egg Farms. [Copyright 2010 National Public Radio]