Peanut Corp. of America owner ties his own noose

Being negligent is one thing, but apparently Stewart Parnell, the owner of the Peanut Corp. of America is in a special class of stupid and evil.

From Talking Points Memo:

The owner of a peanut company urged his workers to ship tainted products after receiving test results identifying salmonella, imploring employees to “turn the raw peanuts on our floor into money,” according to internal company e-mails disclosed Wednesday by a House committee.

The company e-mails obtained by the House panel showed that Peanut Corp. of America owner Stewart Parnell ordered the shipments tainted with the bacteria because he was worried about lost sales.

At one point, Parnell said his workers “desperately at least need to turn the raw peanuts on our floor into money” and at another point told his plant manager to “turn them loose” after learning some peanuts were contaminated with salmonella.

The disclosures came in correspondence released by a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee Wednesday during a hearing on the salmonella outbreak that has sickened 600 people, may be linked to eight deaths and has led to one of the largest recalls in history with more than 1,800 product pulled.

Two perspectives here. One, there is the obvious public health angle. Intentionally putting tainted food in the marketplace is a criminal act. This isn’t negligence, where one can argue plausible deniability. The guy knew his food was bad, and put it into his products anyway. All in the name of profits.

Here’s what Kenneth Kendrick, a former assistant plant manager of Peanut Corp.’s Texas facility said about their facility.

Kenneth Kendrick, a former assistant plant manager of the Texas facility, said in an interview that the plant had a leaky roof, rodent infestation and poor process controls. A second former employee of the Texas plant, who asked for anonymity because of legal concerns, confirmed Mr. Kendrick’s descriptions of the plant and its processes. Mr. Kendrick left the plant about two years ago.

“This was a disgusting plant,” Mr. Kendrick said. “We cut corners.”

The plant always had standing water in its basement, Mr. Kendrick said. The roof leaked so badly that when it rained, workers were instructed to raise tarps to the ceiling to direct the water away from peanuts and plant equipment, the two said. Rain at night went unattended, they said.

Since bird feces peppered the roof, the leaks were an obvious concern, the two said.

That an inspection on Jan. 12 of this year by the Texas Department of State Health Services found no serious deficiencies raises a multitude of questions about the effectiveness of that Department.

By some accounts, the Georgia plant, the first of the Peanut Corps. plants to be closed had similar issues.

Two, there’s the business aspect. His malicious act not only affected his company, but that of dozens of others who were working with him on good faith. He put his company and employees at risk the moment he made that decision.

Stupid. Stupid and evil. Expect many lawsuits from many of the companies who worked with Peanut Corp. in good faith, which will likely bankrupt the company. When that happens, employees who trusted their owner knew what was best will lose their jobs.

As for Stewart Parnell? He needs to sit in a jail cell with photographs of everyone who got ill, and should be required to annually visit each grave site of those who died from his act.

The punch line to all of this is that Mr. Parnell serves on an industry advisory board that helps the U.S. Department of Agriculture set quality standards for peanuts. Talk about irony!

There needs to be a reckoning, and not just at the industry level but at the regulatory level as well. This happened on the FDA’s watch…again. Clearly the system that is supposed to provide adequate oversight does not do so. We know the reasons…the USDA is in the pocket of agri-business (by design), and the FDA is dramatically underfunded.

Let me repeat something that I have stated before in other posts: The system is broken. A regulatory agency that works in reactionary mode isn’t a regulatory agency at all, it’s a cleanup crew.