Members of Congress who repeatedly huff and puff over the treacherous deficiencies in the government’s protection of the nation’s food supply came face-to-face today with a 3-year-old boy who nearly died because his favorite snack was filled with salmonella-tainted peanut butter.
When Rep. Henry Waxman gaveled his House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing into action this morning, the parents of Jacob Hurley were there to describe how they came close to losing their son last month. And according to Waxman, it happened because of the apparent greed of the owners of Peanut Corp. of America and the Food and Drug Administration’s inadequate food-inspection system.
The California Democrat said the company was notified last September by a private lab that its products had tested positive for salmonella.
“In response, the president of the company, Stewart Parnell, sent an e-mail complaining that positive salmonella tests were ‘costing us huge $$$$$ and causing obviously a huge lapse in time from the time we pick up peanuts until the time we can invoice,’ ” Waxman saidf.
As the Seattle P-I reported today in its story on the “Peanut scandal’s weakest victims,” peanut and peanut products from the company, tainted with salmonella, have made at least 604 people sick, sent 187 to the hospital and killed eight.
Three-year-old Jacob was one of those sickened. His father, Peter, a veteran Portland, Ore., police officer, tells the committee that not only was his child brought down by the salmonella, but, because of FDA’s failure to order a mandatory recall of all products using the dangerous peanut butter from the Georgia plant, Jacob also continued to be fed his favorite snack crackers that contained the salmonella bacteria.
Seattle lawyer William Marler was asked to submit written comments to the committee. He had been involved in the aftermath of the 2007 poisoning of 400 people by Conagra’s Peter Pan Peanut Butter, which carried the same strain of salmonella as found in the Peanut Corp. of America products.
Marler told the committee what he had been urging for years: that the three main federal agencies responsible for food safety — the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the inspection arm of the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — be merged and adequately funded.
“The present system is trifurcated, which leads to turf wars and split responsibilities. We need one independent agency that deals with food-borne pathogens,” he wrote.