UPDATE 1-US peanut co. feared salmonella
Source of Article: http://www.reuters.com/article/marketsNews/idUSN1141386520090211?sp=true
Wed Feb 11, 2009 2:30pm EST
(Updates throughout with details from
By Christopher Doering
WASHINGTON, Feb 11 (Reuters) - The president of the
U.S. peanut company blamed for a salmonella outbreak refused to answer
questions before Congress on Wednesday, while internal company messages
showed him complaining about lost profits while the scare was investigated.
The salmonella outbreak traced to a Peanut
Corporation of America
plant in Blakely, Georgia, has sickened at least
600 people, more than half of them children, and may have killed eight
The contamination has forced one of the biggest food
recalls in U.S.
history, scared Americans away from one of their favorite foods and brought
the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under intense scrutiny.
"Lives were lost and people were sickened
because they took a chance, I believe knowingly, with products that were
contaminated," said Oregon Republican Representative Greg Walden, who
held up a plastic jar filled with recalled products and asked Peanut
Corporation of America
President Stewart Parnell if he would like to sample them.
Parnell, subpoenaed to appear before the House of
Representatives Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, looked straight
ahead with arms folded when called to testify.
"I respectfully decline to answer your
questions based on the protection afforded me under the United States
Constitution," he said, referring to the right not provide information
that could be self-incriminating evidence of illegal action.
California Democratic Representative Henry Waxman
displayed internal company e-mails from Parnell. "What they show is this
company cared more about its financial bottom line than about the safety of
its customers," Waxman said.
One e-mail said the time required to deal with
contaminated products, some of which had been shipped, was "costing us
huge $$$$" while another said the employees "desperately at least
need to turn the raw peanuts on our floor into money."
SELLING PRODUCT ANYWAY
FDA officials say they have evidence that internal
tests conducted by Peanut Corporation found 12 instances of salmonella since
2007 at the Blakely facility, but the company sold the product anyway, often
after getting new tests that showed no contamination.
As the members of Congress spoke, the FDA released
13 more notifications of recalls, from Atkins Nutritionals Inc to Palmer
Candy company. More than 1,800 products have been recalled, either because
they were linked to PCA's Blakely, Georgia,
plant or because such links could not be ruled out.
The New York Times reported last week that peanut
butter sales across the nation were down nearly 25 percent.
FBI officials in Atlanta
said on Monday they had joined the FDA in a criminal investigation of the
Jeffrey Almer of Minnesota, whose
mother died of salmonella poisoning, called the Peanut Corporation's actions
criminal and asked the committee to help enact tougher food safety
"Cancer couldn't claim her but peanut butter
did," said Almer. "Our family feels
cheated. Mom should be here today."
Several bills have been introduced in Congress
proposing food safety overhauls. The most popular focus on giving FDA more
money and authority and splitting the agency to create a separate
organization in charge of food safety.
"Our government failed you. There is no excuse
we can offer you," Rep. Jan Schakowsky told the victims. "We will
act to make your families safer from this kind of potential killer."
(Writing by Maggie Fox and Christopher Doering; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)