Saturday, March 21, 2009

Waxman working for peanuts - and us

Thank God for Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., for keeping the heat on the Peanut Corporation of America. In doing so, he is compelling all of us to think about what blind faith we engage in every time we open a bag or box of processed food.

According to a story in The Washington Post today, Kellogg and other companies that bought products from PCA told lawmakers Friday that unlike Nestlé, they did not perform their own inspections. Instead, they relied on third-party audits common in the U.S. food industry:
David Mackay, Kellogg's chief executive, said his company trusted audits performed by the American Institute of Baking International, the biggest food-inspection firm in the country. The institute conducted scheduled inspections of PCA's facilities and never flagged serious problems. It issued a "certificate of achievement" and a "superior" rating last August, when PCA was getting results from internal laboratory tests that revealed a salmonella problem in its plant in Blakely, Ga., congressional investigators said.

"They gave PCA glowing reviews," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "The company was selected by PCA, paid by PCA, and realized that if they didn't give PCA a glowing review, they were not going to get hired again.

"They gave PCA a certificate of achievement," added Waxman, who held up the certificate in one hand and with the other waved a photograph, taken by federal investigators, of dead rodents inside a PCA facility. "How do you have a company that looks like this getting a certificate of achievement? . . . It really makes you think there must be something wrong."
It's too bad that other large conglomerates, who obviously only had the bottom line in their sights, didn't do what Nestlé did and send their own inspectors out for a check of the facilities.
It sounds like there was plenty of chances to stop the bad peanut butter from spreading, but at every juncture, profit won out over prevention. And a lot of innocent people paid the price.

I hope that more videos of these hearings make it out into the public domain, so us non-CSPAN junkies can see our public officials in action. The video below was taken earlier in the hearings.

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