09.22.15

Peanut butter poisoner/businessman gets life

Posted in Bioterrorism, Predator State, The Corporate Bund at 2:51 pm by George Smith

Stewart Parnell, CEO of Peanut Corporation of America, was effectively sent to prison for life for a salmonella epidemic caused by his company’s shipping of contaminated peanut butter in 2008. He was given 28 years in prison. The outbreak sickened over 700 and killed nine people outright.

Parnell’s brother, also in the business, was given 20 years, a lower-level flunky, five.

The sentences are, by far, the toughest ever handed down to food company executives.

At the time, DD blog wrote about Parnell more than once.

Some excerpts:

Stewart Parnell, Peanut Corp., before Congress. Where is his turban and beard? Where’s his video found on the
Internets by our government, like all the rest of those frightening guys from other countries shaking their fingers and ranting in Arabic at the netcam? Where are the experts from CSIS or Brookings saying what a dangerous fellow he is? Where are our tough lawmakers squeezing the truth from him? Talk, you! His hometown newspaper said he was a good football player in high school, though. Oh, where did it all go so wrong?


In the predator state, the bad company led by bad men will literally poison the public. And they won’t stop until people are killed. In the predator state system, still that’s not even enough to get them dragged from the street.

A year ago Baxter International and another US company it did business with killed people by selling tainted heparin. Heparin is a necessary drug in US medicine and it used to be made here. But in the rush for profits, like many other US businesses, both companies subcontracted their formerly in-house work to China, where there were people willing and malicious enough to deliver a cheaper counterfeit substance, a derivative of chondroitin sulfate, used to mimic heparin. The counterfeit material sickened hundreds and killed a number of people outright. There were news stories and vows of reform. And then nothing happened; it was back to business as usual in the predator state. It was no time to get in the way of commerce!

Today readers have the spectacle of the house hearings in which Peanut Corporation of America’s CEO, Stewart Parnell, is seen as willfully urging his employees to get his salmonella-laced peanuts out the door.

“[Parnell] gave instructions to nonetheless ‘turn them loose’ … ” reports the Atlanta Journal & Constitution. At the time, Parnell was engaged in finding a laboratory that wouldn’t return a positive salmonella test, kind of like fishing through a high school bundle of failed exams, looking for the lone good one, the coincidental exception…


The wheels of justice grind slowly.

The Bush administration spent a great deal of time in office building up homeland security defenses against mostly-imagined threats in biological and chemical terrorism.

On the domestic side it did all it could to destroy food safety by getting rid of regulators.

The years of the Bush presidency could be characterized in many ways, all bad, one being the recurring feature of a surprising number off mass illnesses caused by contamination in food products.

For example, the killing of a large number of beloved pets by mass distribution of melamine as an adulterant in their food.

In this climate, the Peanut Corporation of American, run by Stewart Parnell, caused one of the biggest outbreaks of salmonellosis in the country’s history. The outbreak killed nine people and sickened hundreds.

By contrast, anthrax bioterrorist Bruce Ivins killed five and made 17 others very ill.

It wasn’t until 2013, five years after the outbreak, that a grand jury indicted Parnell and his associates. Family members of those killed in it remarked that they thought the sentence was appropriate but that it had come way too late.

Parnell’s defense protested the severity, commenting that Austin “Jack” Decoster, a CEO who had caused the biggest egg recall in American history for another recent disease outbreak, received only a couple months in prison. Parnell’s defense has a point.

On the other hand, the salmonella epidemic caused by Decoster’s Quality Egg/Wright County Egg did not kill anyone straight-off, although it sickened more — estimates range from 1,600 — 56,000. Decoster, it’s clear, was just lucky.

Decoster, like Stewart Parnell, is a truly Dickensian character and the blog covered the news in a series of posts entitled Eat Shit Farms.

As the story unfolded, an unsurprising picture emerged, that of an American businessman who had used lawyers and evasions to fight off food regulations on egg production for years. Because it could get away with no regulation, Decoster’s Quality Egg became a dominant national business with which could undersell competing egg farmers in other states where local oversight was stronger.

California, it turned out was an example. Egg farmers had to immunize their herds against salmonella, which added a couple pennies to the price of eggs. DeCoster’s egg farming operation avoided this.

Subsequent photography of Quality Egg showed other major health problems, the build-up of chicken excrement until the sides of the building bulged out from the pile being an unforgettable example.

From news article on Jack Decoster’s sentence in April of this year for the disease outbreak in 2010:

SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Two former egg industry executives were sentenced to three months in jail Monday for their roles in a major 2010 salmonella outbreak that sickened thousands.

Austin “Jack” DeCoster and his son, Peter DeCoster, faced up to a year in jail on charges of shipping adulterated food. They will remain free while appealing their three-month sentence.

Prosecutors said the sentence sends a strong message about the importance of following food safety rules…

“There’s a litany of shameful conduct, in my view, that happened under their watch,” Bennett said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked 1,939 illnesses to the outbreak, but officials estimate that up to 56,000 people may have been sickened.

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