Contaminated Chicken Feed

August 22, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

A supplier in egg recall has history of violations

That’s the headline from this morning’s AP story. I suspect that the AP and newspapers keep that phrase “history of violations” as a single keystroke macro. Reporters can quickly plug it into any story about rotten eggs, mine disasters, oil spills, building collapses, worker deaths, etc.

It makes me skeptical about either regulation or tort liability as a way to prevent these things. Torts cases take years and years and may be hard to prove – those armies of lawyers on corporate payrolls are there for a reason. As the AP notes, “The FDA investigation could take months, and sources of contamination are often difficult to find..” There’s a similar problem in the most recent Massey mine disaster, where the precise cause has not yet been determined. And that’s with the government, not a few lawyers, doing the heavy lifting.

Also, as we learned in the Gulf, corporations have lobbied to have caps put on their liability. Had BP not voluntarily waived that cap, the most they could have had to pony up was a puny $75 million.

DeCoster, the bad egg people, had been fined in 1997 for unsafe and unsanitary conditions. But the fine, the maximum allowed by law, was $2 million – chicken feed.

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