Laws to tackle tainted-food cases seem to lack much bite
Source of Article: http://www.ajc.com/services/content/printedition/2009/03/05/foodcrime0305.html
Thursday, March 05, 2009
salmonella outbreak associated with Peanut Corp. of
“In 15 years of litigating most of the major foodborne illness outbreaks in the U.S., the PCA case may well be the worst food-safety breach I have ever seen,” said Seattle food-borne illness attorney Bill Marler, who has filed multiple claims against Peanut Corp. in the recent outbreak.
But as federal investigators move forward, they also are aware that few food-related investigations turn into prosecutions and even fewer land anyone in jail.
In the salmonella outbreak that began last fall, nine people are believed to be dead from eating bad peanut products. More than 660 people have been sickened.
federal criminal investigation of Peanut Corp. of
The probe focuses on the violation of federal food “adulteration” laws, and doesn’t legally address the victims, said former Food and Drug Administration investigators and federal agents familiar with the investigation and prosecution of food-borne illness cases.
doesn’t matter if anybody got sick, or if anybody died,” said Benjamin
England, a former investigator with the FDA’s Office of Criminal
Investigations and a
Federal officials won’t comment on the criminal probe springing from the current salmonella outbreak. The FDA is working with the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI on the probe.
the FDA levied a $1.5 million fine against Odwalla
In 2007, the president of Lantana, Fla.-based Atlantis Foods Inc. got 15 months after pleading guilty to a scheme to sell adulterated chicken salad and lobster dip.
Former investigators said laws governing food adulteration date to the 1938 Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The act defines adulterated product as food that was “prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby it may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby it may have been rendered injurious to health.”
The provision offers two types of adulteration charges —- misdemeanor and felony. Intent defines the difference. A felony charge means the food was knowingly contaminated and put on the market. The maximum felony fine is $10,000. The maximum prison term is three years.
States where victims of tainted food were sickened or died can pursue charges such as manslaughter or negligent homicide, said former federal investigators and prosecutors. But states often don’t.
perfect world, a state might be right in the middle of it [the investigation]
right now,” said Rande Matteson, a former federal
agent and chairman of the Department of Criminal Justice at
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