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Company head refuses to testify in tainted food inquiry

Latest update : 2009-02-12

Stewart Parnell (pictured), the owner of a peanut products company accused of knowingly selling products that poisoned at least 550 people in a salmonella outbreak, refused to testify in a hearing before Congress on Wednesday.

AFP - The owner of a peanut products company accused of knowingly selling tainted stock that poisoned at least 550 people refused to testify when he appeared in Congress on Wednesday.
   
Stewart Parnell, the owner of Peanut Corp. of America, a wholesaler of peanut butter and pastes, appeared before a Congressional sub-committee investigating one of the United States' largest ever food recalls.
   
At the hearing Parnell was presented with evidence he had encouraged staff and officials to ignore tests showing his products could be dangerous to human health.
   
Legislators showed an email that apparently showed Parnell pleading with the Food and Drug Administration official to be allowed to press ahead with business despite the scare.
   
"We desperately at least need to turn the raw peanuts on our floor into money" the email stated.
   
Parnell is also said to have complained that the testing was costing the company "huge $$$$$$."
   
Parnell refused to comment on the texts. "Mr Chairman and members of the committee on advice of my counsel, I respectfully decline to answer your questions based on the protections afforded me under the US constitution,"  he told the hearing.
   
The salmonella outbreak took place between September 1 and January 9, with 550 people infected in 43 states and at least one more person in Canada.
   
Bart Stupak, chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee looking into the case, said the evidence painted a "very disturbing picture."
   
"Since June 2007, PCA's products tested positive for salmonella on 12 different occasions," he said, adding that "the company continued to produce and distribute its peanut butter products without consequence.
   
"Peanut Corp. of America knew about salmonella contamination for over a year and a half, but did nothing to address it."
   
Testifying before the committee Charles Deibel, director of Deibel Laboratories -- which tests industry samples for bacteria -- said it was not unusual for firms to ask for positive samples to be retested.
   
But he added, "what is virtually unheard of is for a company to disregard those results and place potentially contaminated products into the stream of commerce".
   
The company is also the subject of a criminal investigation by the US Justice Department.
   
The peanut products were distributed to US companies as well as others in Canada, Haiti, South Korea and Trinidad.
 

Date created : 2009-02-12

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