Orland Bethel, the president of Hillandale Farms of Iowa and a longtime associate of the DeCosters, cited his Fifth Amendment rights and declined to testify. But in an Aug. 31 e-mail released by the subcommittee, Mr. Bethel wrote, “Hillandale needs to totally disassociate itself from Jack and it needs to be real. Hillandale has a good business base, but it will all be gone if I don’t move quickly and I will not try to deceive the public.”
In another e-mail, Mr. Bethel wrote that his company had been told by Costco and Wal-Mart “that they will not be doing any business if Jack and his people have any involvement in management or ownership.”
Duane Mangskau, a Hillandale production manager, told the committee that Hillandale had ended its marketing relationship with Wright County Egg.
Representative Bruce Braley, a Democrat of Iowa, asked Austin DeCoster, “How is it possible that after all this time we have another DeCoster egg facility involved in a half-billion egg recall?”
Mr. DeCoster responded, “The question is complicated, sir.”
Pictures taken at the DeCoster facilities of barns bursting with manure, manure flowing under barn doors, and barns with dead rodents, chickens and flies were shown at the hearing. Members of the panel expressed outrage that inspectors found such conditions even though the DeCosters were alerted days before inspectors appeared that the company’s eggs had been contaminated.
“DeCoster farms have had warning after warning” for decades, said Representative Henry A. Waxman, a California Democrat. “Yet they continue to raise chickens in slovenly conditions and to make millions of dollars by selling contaminated eggs.”
The hearing was briefly interrupted by two animal welfare advocates who unfurled an anti-egg banner and repeatedly chanted: “All eggs kill!” Police officers escorted them from the room.
Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, the F.D.A.’s principal deputy commissioner, told the panel that the F.D.A. needed new powers and money to help prevent further food contamination outbreaks, both of which are provided for in legislation that the House passed last year but that has been languishing in the Senate. “We need this bill to help protect the safety of the food supply,” he said.
Democratic members of the panel denounced Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, who has objected to a Democratic plan to bring food safety legislation to a vote.
“This is a public health imperative,” said Representative Edward J. Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts. “There must be some exceptions for Republicans in the Senate. They must release this bill so that we can protect millions of families.”
But Representative Michael C. Burgess, Republican of Texas, said that Mr. Coburn’s objections had not prevented the bill from being considered by the Senate. Mr. Burgess sought to read a statement from Mr. Coburn at the hearing, but Representative Bart Stupak, the chairman of the panel, cut off his microphone, which led to a sharp exchange between the lawmakers.
“I voted with you on the dang bill. I’ve worked with you on the dang bill,” Mr. Burgess said. “It is preposterous that the majority has conducted the hearing this way when he’s not the problem.”
And then, referring to Mr. Coburn, Mr. Burgess added, “He may become a problem if the majority leader brings it to the floor,” a remark that elicited laughter from the room.
Hours after the hearing, Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada and the Senate majority leader, asked on the Senate floor for the unanimous consent for the body to consider the bill.
“There is no excuse to wait any longer,” he said. “Our current food safety system hasn’t been updated in almost a century.” But Mr. Coburn objected. To overcome Mr. Coburn’s objections, Mr. Reid would have to file for cloture, a process that can take a week or more; the Senate has other legislation it must pass before members adjourn to campaign in October.
“On a piece of legislation that is this bipartisan, this should be something we can do rather quickly,” said Regan Lachapelle, a spokeswoman for Mr. Reid. “Unfortunately, one senator is saying no.”