Thicke: Iowa ag secretary had authority, responsibility to inspect DeCoster feed mill
Nationwide Salmonella food poisoning could have been averted if feed had been tested as required under Iowa Code Chapter 198
FAIRFIELD, Iowa, September 3, 2010 – Iowa Secretary of Agriculture candidate Francis Thicke (pronounced TICK-ee) said today the authority to inspect feed mills such as the one thought to be the source of a nationwide outbreak of Salmonella poisoning is found in Iowa Code Chapter 198.
Thicke said in a news conference Thursday that Northey could and should have provided more oversight of the suspect feed mill, owned by habitual environmental law violator Austin “Jack” DeCoster. In response, a spokesman for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said Northey doesn’t believe he has the authority to inspect the feed mill that provided the Salmonella-contaminated feed to both Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms.
In his response, Thicke, the Democratic candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, issued the following statement this morning:
“Mr. Northey should reread Iowa Code Chapter 198 which specifies that a mill that sells feed or provides feed to a contract feeder is subject to licensing and inspection. The mill in question is owned by Wright County Egg, but that mill also provided feed to Hillandale Farms. Whether Wright County Egg sold the feed to Hillandale Farms, or Hillandale Farms served as a contract feeder for Wright County Egg, by Iowa law, the mill should have been licensed and inspected.
“It is very disconcerting that the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture would ignore his statutory responsibilities to the favor of ‘habitual violator’ Jack DeCoster, who has a long history of illicit practices. This is particularly alarming because the scale of the operations in question makes the food-safety implications so severe. If Salmonella contamination of the feed supply is found to be the cause of food poisoning for 1,500 people across the nation – as preliminary reports indicate – this national crisis could have been averted if the secretary had tested the feed and issued a ‘withdrawal from distribution’ order for the contaminated feed, as the law specifies he should have.
“As a dairy farmer and on-farm dairy processor, my dairy is inspected regularly, and the dairy products I produce are tested routinely to ensure food safety. But the egg industry is 50 years behind the times in its regulatory framework to secure food safety. For the Secretary of Agriculture to argue that he should err on the side of not enforcing the minimal regulations in place for egg production is unconscionable.
“Rather than making excuses for his past failure – which allowed the egg industry to fall into a colossal food-safety crisis – the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture should be leading the charge to create a regulatory framework that will ensure the safety of eggs produced in Iowa.”
Francis Thicke has been a full-time farmer for 27 years, is a scientist with a Ph.D. in agronomy/soil fertility, and has worked in the past at the USDA in Washington, D.C., where he served as National Program Leader for Soil Science. A frequently consulted national expert on agricultural sustainability, Thicke and his wife, Susan, own and operate an 80-cow organic, grass-based dairy near Fairfield, where they process milk on the farm into bottled milk, yogurt and cheese marketed locally through Fairfield grocery stores and restaurants. For additional information on his campaign for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, go to www.ThickeForAgriculture.com.