Peanut Corporation of America Refuses to Testify to Congress

By: Ashley King

WASHINGTON (AP/UTC)– The owner of a Peanut Corporation refused to testify to Congress after he pleaded with federal health officials that he should be able to  “turn the raw peanuts on the floor into money.”

The Salmonella outbreak has been the possible result of 9 death, made nearly 600 people ill, and has brought over 1,800 items to a product recall. Stewart Parnell, Owner of Peanut Corp. of America, invoked his right to hold a hearing on the national salmonella outbreak blamed on his company. 

“Their behavior is criminal, in my opinion. I want to see jail time,” said Jeffrey Almer, whose 72-year-old mother died Dec. 21 in Minnesota of salmonella poisoning after eating Peanut Corp.’s peanut butter.  Other relatives of victims urged lawmakers to approve mandatory product recalls and improve public notice about contaminated food.

Parnell sat stiffly, his hands folded in his lap at the witness table, as Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., held up a clear jar of his company’s products wrapped in crime scene tape and asked him if he would be willing to eat the food.

“Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, on advice of my counsel, I respectively decline to answer your questions based on the protections afforded me under the U.S. Constitution,” Parnell said.

In January after the national outbreak was tied to his company, Parnell told FDA workerst that his company “desperately at least need to turn the raw peanuts on our floor into money.” He also told his plant manager to “turn them loose” after products once deemed contaminated were cleared in a second test.

“Obviously we are not shipping any peanut butter products affected by the recall but desperately at least need to turn the raw peanuts on our floor into money,” he wrote. “We have other raw peanuts on our floor that we would like to do the same with.”

Charles Deibel, president of Deibel Laboratories Inc., said his company was among those that tested Peanut Corp. products and notified the Georgia plant that salmonella was found. Peanut Corp. sold the products anyway, according to an FDA inspection report.

“What is virtually unheard of is for an entity to disregard those results and place potentially contaminated products into the stream of commerce,” Deibel said.

Deibel said he hopes the crisis leads to a greater role for FDA in overseeing food safety and providing more guidance to food makers.

The Peanut Corp. of America now makes only about 1 percent of U.S. peanut products. But its ingredients are used by dozens of other food companies. The company is currently under FBI investigation.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

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