DeCosters in IOWA: A checkered legacy
Posted: August 29th, 2010 - 8:02pm
Source: Des Moines Register
Galt, Ia. - Wright County seemed to have finally gotten the best of both worlds with the DeCoster family. The notoriety and the environmental problems the DeCosters brought were gone. The money and the jobs they provided were still here.
But now, the county and its most famous businessman are household names nationwide, linked to a massive recall of eggs and the biggest recorded outbreak of illnesses caused by the type of salmonella bacteria found in eggs.
"Well, I'll tell you, everybody in the country knows where Galt, Iowa, is now," said Stan Watne, a county supervisor.
Watne lives just down the road from the main complex of Wright County Egg, the company founded by Jack DeCoster and now run by his son, Peter, that's the focus of an intensive government investigation into the cause of the salmonella outbreak. The Food and Drug Administration has released few details about the problems that investigators have found, but FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg bluntly said the DeCoster farms were not following "standards of practice that we consider responsible."
DeCoster controls nine chicken-confinement operations in Wright County with a total capacity of 8.9 million birds. Wright County Egg and a second company, Hillandale Farms of Iowa, have recalled 550 million eggs and have been linked to a salmonella outbreak that has sickened at least 1,470 people across the nation.
Watne calls the DeCosters "nice people" who helped fund a new public library and assisted living center, among other projects. Peter DeCoster "certainly wouldn't do anything like this on purpose," Watne said, referring to the salmonella outbreak.
But Jack DeCoster became a polarizing figure in Iowa soon after arriving in Wright County from Maine in the late 1980s when he started building the huge farms, now common across Iowa, that house thousands of hogs and millions of hens.