The Peanut Corp. of America discovered salmonella in its peanuts 12 times over two years. The Texas State Health Services Department found dead rodents, rodent excrement and bird feathers around the air system at the company’s Texas plant.
Despite these health violations, the executives shipped the tainted peanuts anyway, including 32 truckloads to children’s school lunch programs in three states.
An e−mail released at a recent congressional hearing showed company owner Stewart Parnell ordered a plant manager to “turn them loose” after learning some peanuts tested positive for salmonella. Company executives refused to answer questions at the hearing per their attorney’s advice. One executive refused to try some of the recalled products.
In all, peanuts tainted with salmonella have sickened more than 600 Americans across 45 states, including 21 New Yorkers. Nine people have died. As we examine this tragedy, we realize it is more than just a bookkeeping problem and more than a matter of bureaucracy. This is something approximating criminally negligent homicide.
Based on evidence, these executives did something short of poisoning people when they knowingly shipped products tainted with salmonella. Authorities in Georgia are thinking about whether or not to bring criminal charges.
But they have yet to commit and are awaiting federal action. I am working to introduce federal legislation to toughen the criminal law and allow investigators to use more tools to crack down on this negligent behavior.
All 43 states affected, including prosecutors here in New York, should begin the process of a criminal investigation. New York prosecutors can and should start a criminal probe. These executives, and anyone else involved, should face jail time.
Meanwhile, we need a more efficient way to test food products and more food inspectors who are able to review results more easily. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack got it right when he recommended a unified food safety agency. And granting the Food and Drug Administration authority to recall tainted food quickly and creating an advanced system for tracking foods in order to quickly pull tainted food off shelves are needed.
The salmonella outbreak, which led to one of the nation’s largest recalls, is more than a simple lapse of regulations and incomplete paperwork. This appears to be a case where someone blatantly ignored basic health practices and willfully sent tainted food across the nation.
The Obama administration and Congress must make food safety a priority. We have learned firsthand that the safety of our children and families is far too important to trade away for a bag of peanuts.
©2009 Community News Group
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