World and Nation

Tensions in Iowa town at the heart of the eggs recall

CLARION, Iowa — The conversation at the weekly gathering of local ladies at a coffee shop here turned uncharacteristically tense.

One woman suggested that the company at the focus of the recall of hundreds of millions of eggs, with huge facilities here, had done more harm than good locally. A second resident jumped in to defend the operation and the DeCoster family that runs it, sternly announcing that any troubles ought not be discussed aloud.

Federal authorities announced Thursday that they had found samples of salmonella matching the strain of the recent outbreak in the feed and barns of Wright County Egg, the DeCosters’ facilities.

The authorities said nearly 1,500 illnesses since May might be tied to tainted eggs, making this the largest outbreak associated with this type of bacteria, known as Salmonella enteritidis, since the federal government began closely tracking foodborne disease in 1973.

The intense scrutiny DeCoster and another producer, Hillandale Farms, have come under has reopened a fault line in central Iowa, those who detest enormous, industrial-size farms and say the risk of a widespread salmonella outbreak is one more reason to fear them; on the other, those who see such farming as the economic savior of these wide open spaces.

The DeCosters produce 2.3 million dozen eggs a week in Iowa. Over the years, many here have objected to the growing operations of Austin J. DeCoster.