(NaturalNews) The president of the peanut company that has been involved in a nationwide salmonella outbreak serves on an industry advisory board that assists the U.S. Department of Agriculture in setting quality standards for peanuts. Stewart Parnell, the president of Peanut Corporation of America, was initially appointed to the USDA's Peanut Standards Board in July 2005. He was reappointed in October 2008 for a second term that will continue until June 2011.
The salmonella outbreak that involves peanut butter made at the Peanut Corporation of America plant in Blakely, Ga., has made more than 500 people in 43 states sick and may be responsible for the deaths of eight people.
Late last week the FDA stated that it is working with the Department of Justice on a criminal investigation of the Peanut Corporation of America. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is also determining whether the company has broken any state laws.
Historically, criminal charges are not brought against food companies involved in outbreaks. The law is not utilized often to bring charges because there has been little public desire for pursuing criminal charges except in the most severe cases. There are signs now; however, that public desire may be shifting toward more aggressive prosecution.
If the government decides to press charges, prosecutors may use the 1938 Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act. This enables the government to charge food manufacturers if they are responsible for contaminated food. The Supreme Court gave prosecutors even more power in 1975 when it ruled that they were not required to prove the companies knew the food was contaminated.
In this salmonella outbreak, Georgia officials have stated they will consider pursuing manslaughter charges if federal authorities do not begin a case against the Peanut Corporation of America.
The Peanut Standards Board is comprised completely of volunteers and isn't directly involved with food-safety issues. Its main duties are advising the USDA about how to grade and classify peanuts after they come out of the field. This involves setting the sizes for different peanuts and standards for how much moisture peanuts should contain before they are allowed onto store shelves. The board also helps set "quality and handling standards" for domestic and imported peanuts.
The Peanut Standards Board was created by the 2002 Farm Bill and also advises the secretary of the USDA on "standards intended to assure that satisfactory quality and wholesome peanuts are used in the domestic and import peanut markets," according to the USDA.
A USDA spokesman stated that no one was available Friday to provide further details about the board or its members. President Parnell was not able to be reached for comment. The Peanut Corporation of America released a statement Friday evening saying:
"We at Peanut Corporation of America express our deepest and most sincere empathy for those sickened in the salmonella outbreak and their families. We share the public's concern about the potential connection to Peanut Corporation of America's products. Our top priority has been - and will continue to be - to ensure the public safety and to work promptly to remove all potentially contaminated products out of the marketplace.
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