Editorial Notebook - Egg Factory - NYTimes.com.
Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote a nice short piece about a factory farm in Clarion, Iowa. "The factory — no point calling it a farm — called Wright County Egg, is the source of 380 million of the more than 500 million recalled eggs."
When I was young, I thought I grasped the immensity of the Iowa landscape. The immensity of the soybean and corn fields has only grown because so many smaller farms have vanished as a result of government farm policy, which rewards economic concentration. As I turned off Highway 3 east of town, I saw that there was a newer immensity, the egg factories — an endless row of faceless buildings, as bland as a compound of colossal storage units but with the air of a prison.
It wasn’t simply that the operation is out of scale with the Iowa landscape. It is out of scale with any landscape, except perhaps the industrial districts of Los Angeles County. What shocked me most was the thought that this is where the logic of industrial farming gets us. Instead of people on the land, committed to the welfare of the agricultural enterprise and the resources that make it possible, there was this horror — a place where millions of chickens are crowded in tiny cages and hundreds of laborers work in dire conditions.
It takes only a little investigation to learn how bad things have been inside those buildings. The list of offenses for which the DeCosters and their farms have been fined in Iowa and Maine only begins with hiring children and illegal immigrants.
In 2000, Jack DeCoster, the operations’ founder, was named a “habitual violator” of Iowa’s environmental laws. His egg factories have been cited by OSHA for deplorable working conditions. In 2003, Mr. DeCoster paid more than $1.5 million to settle an employment discrimination suit charging that 11 women working in the Clarion plants had been subject to sexual harassment, including rape and threats of retaliation. There have been nearly 1,500 illnesses as a result of the salmonella outbreak. Every one of the billions of eggs produced this way has been tainted.
I am led to wonder whether this is the sort of "family farm" which those who campaigned to get rid of the estate tax sought to protect.
Let's think about what incentives we need to shift in order to return to a situation in which more people can earn a decent living off the land without mistreating creatures, polluting the earth, exploiting workers or endangering their customers. Or we can continue with the wealth-concentrating machine we've permitted.
What do we value? Whose voices will get our legislators' attention?
It is all connected.
But it is not FUBAR.