In testimony last week, Peter Hurley, a 40-year-old officer with the Portland Police Bureau, told the House Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations how salmonella-laced peanut products "poisoned" his 3-year-old son, Jacob, causing diarrhea and other debilitating symptoms (at the time of the hearing the young boy was, thankfully, fully recovered).
Refusing to testify was Stewart Parnell, owner of the Peanut Corp. of America ("PCA"), which has been blamed for the salmonella outbreak. Each time he was asked a question, Parnell invoked his constitutional right not to incriminate himself.
But the evidence is damning and maddening. PCA emails released by the subcommittee showed that the company's senior managers did not wait for lab results before shipping a load of peanut product that tested positive for salmonella. Other emails show that Parnell was concerned only with the impact testing was having on his profits, while demonstrating a complete disregard for the safety of consumers. For example, in an October 6, 2008 email to Sammy Lightsey, his plant manager, Parnell said time for the testing "is costing us huge $$$$$$ and causing obviously a huge lapse in time from the time we pick up peanuts until the time we can invoice."
The real question now is whether the government will finally reform a food safety system that subcommittee members agreed is disjointed, riddled with loopholes and lacking tough penalties.