Executives of the Peanut Corporation of America came before Congress today to answer accusations that they deliberately shipped product known to be contaminated with salmonella. They refused to answer any questions, instead invoking 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, this is not a situation where three or four people got upset stomaches. As of this writing, nine people have died and more than 600 have fallen ill in 43 states. The recall has involved more than 1000 products, making it one of the largest in US history.
Now the Congressional inquiry seems stalled with both Stewart Parnell, PCA President, and Sammy Lightsey, the plant manager, refusing to testify. In the interest of bagging the real criminal in this incident, I have a suggestion following.
However, who is the real criminal? Well, there is evidence that Lightsey tried to do the right thing, notifying Parnell of a positive salmonella test result in October, and recommending a shipment be put on hold. Parnell’s response was “…We need to discuss this … the time lapse, besides the cost is costing us huge $$$$$…”. All poor English aside, it is clear that Parnell was not concerned with the possibility that his firm’s product was contaminated with a deadly organism; no sir, he cared about profit.
I recommend that Congress and law enforcement officials go after the big fish, regardless of whether it is believed that Lightsey may have broken the law. If Congress grants Lightsey immunity from prosecution for his statements, he cannot exercise his 5th Amendment rights because his testimony cannot incriminate him. He can then be forced to testify under threat of a contempt of Congress citation.
I say go forward with exactly this strategy. Throw the book at Parnell. We cannot afford the rash of illnesses and deaths that occur when food safety takes a back seat to profits. Just look at China. We don’t even want to go there.