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Peanut Corp. President Refuses To Testify To Lawmakers

Posted by Jane Akre
Wednesday, February 11, 2009 1:48 PM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: PCA, Peanut Corporation of America, Salmonella, FDA, FoodBorne Illness, Public Health, Parnell

Peanut Corp of America president refuses to testify to lawmakers. 



IMAGE SOURCE:  Wikimedia Commons/ peanuts on the vine/ author: pollinator


Stewart Parnell was suppose to be on the hot seat in Washington D.C. today as lawmakers tried to ascertain what he knew and when he knew it.

The president of the Peanut Corp. of America (PCA) had been called before a House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation to explain internal company e-mails disclosing that he ordered salmonella tainted products shipped while awaiting the results of tests, and even after he had positive results for salmonella.

Parnell was worried about lost sales, reports Associated Press

But Parnell never showed up, nor did plant manager, Sammy Lightsey, invoking the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination.

Had they appeared they would have heard from family members of loved ones who died after eating salmonella contaminated peanut products.  Eight deaths are attributed to the nationwide outbreak which has sickened nearly 600 people in 44 states. 

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the two even refused to answer lawmaker’s questions after the hearing whether they would eat any of the products coming from their plant. The peanuts were in a plastic container wrapped with crime scene tape.

Rep. Bart Stupak, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation opened today’s hearing saying, “The psychological cost has been widespread.”

The Smoking Gun has the correspondence in question, among them, an e-mail from Stewart Parnell to his Blakely, Georgia plant staff dated January 12, after the initial salmonella was sourced in an open jar of his company’s peanut butter in a Minnesota nursing home. 

  • Lightsey wrote Parnell discussing positive salmonella tests on its products, but Parnell gave instructions to nonetheless “turn them loose” after getting a negative test result from another testing company.
  • In another e-mail, Parnell expressed his concerns over the losing “$$$$$$” due to delays in shipment and costs of testing.
  • Parnell in another company-wide e-mail told employees there was no salmonella in its plants, instead accusing the news media of, “looking for a news story where there currently isn’t one.”
  • The FDA reveals that on January 19, Parnell sent an e-mail to the Food and Drug Administration pleading he, “desperately at least need to turn the raw peanuts on our floor into money.”
  • Parnell writes in the January e-mail that the CDC and FDA “have NOT said there is any salmonella in any of our other product.”

At that point, he leaves open the possibility that contamination may have come from leaving the jar open in the Minnesota nursing home.  

But another e-mail from Sammy Lightsey written September 29, 2008 confirms the final lab results from Deibel Lab, “We have a positive for Salmonella.” He says some of the product has been shipped, the customers need to be alerted and the product, “placed on HOLD until this can be cleared.”

Charles Diebel, told the committee it’s not unusual for a lab to find a positive for salmonella. 

Deibel said in prepared testimony reported by AP, "What is virtually unheard of is for an entity to disregard those results and place potentially contaminated products into the stream of commerce."

When Diebel asked the plant manager if the contaminated peanuts could be retrieved, he was told they were on a truck heading to Utah where they were to be distributed to schools and nursing homes. 

The FBI reportedly raided corporate headquarters in Lynchburg, Virginia this week.  The Texas plant belonging to the company was also shut down when similar problems with sanitation were revealed.  Employees there tell the New York Times the conditions were “disgusting”.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes that prosecution of companies that manufacture contaminated food have been virtually nonexistent. ConAgra was never charged in 2002 after an E. coli meat recall, or again in 2007 after its peanut butter tainted with salmonella sickened 400. 

A Justice Department probe is underway into PCA and President Obama has signaled that his presidency will see stricter oversight over food safety.  # 

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