Ex-Egg Farm Workers Say Feds Ignored ComplaintsSep 3, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP
Former workers at Wright County Egg, one of two Iowa egg producers associated with a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella, are claiming that inspectors from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) ignored their complaints about unsanitary conditions at one of the producer’s facilities. According to the Associated Press, the USDA has countered that the inspectors were employed to “grade” eggs, and weren’t primarily responsible for looking for health problems.
USDA employees were based next to areas where roughly 7.7 million caged hens laid eggs at the two operations, the Associated Press said. As part of an industry-paid program, the USDA egg graders were at the facilities at least 40 hours per week.
According to a USA Today report, such inspectors only look for vermin inside the specific processing building where they are based. Though USDA regulations say buildings and “outside premises” must be free of conditions that harbor vermin, it considers outside premises as only the area immediately around the processing building’s loading dock and trash receptacle, the report said. Such inspectors have no authority to look at the laying barns, even though they are connected to the processing facilities.
According to the Associated Press, the two ex-workers, Robert and Deanna Arnold, were employed at Wright County’s Galt Farm and another at Alden, Iowa off and on between the early 1990s to late 2008 and early 2009. They said they reported problems such as mice, leaking manure and dead chickens to USDA employees, but nothing was done.
“It didn’t matter which USDA officer was working, if we reported something they would just turn their heads,” Deanna Arnold said. “They didn’t care.”
The conditions described by the Arnolds echo the sanitation problems found by US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors at both Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, the second producer involved in the outbreak, during visits to their facilities last month. According to the Associated Press, the FDA shares responsibility for egg-laying operations with the USDA: The FDA oversees areas where hens lay eggs and the USDA is in charge of the eggs as they are packaged. However, prior to August, the FDA had not expected egg-laying areas at either Wright County Egg or Hillandale Farms.
As we’ve reported previously, new rules that took effect last month will require more testing and inspections of egg producers.
Hillandale Farms and Wright County Egg have together recalled more than half a million shell eggs since mid-August. According to the Centers for Disease Control, at least 1,470 reported illnesses are likely to be associated with the multi-state Salmonella outbreak.