The Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) was founded in 1977 and was headquartered in Lynchburg, Virginia. In 2009, an inquiry began after the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control traced a national outbreak of salmonella to the PCA’s Blakely plant.
The corporation supplied many forms of peanut-related products, such as peanut butter and peanut paste to stores and institutions around America, including nursing homes and schools.
In 2008, the PCA had 90 employees, did almost $25 million in sales and manufactured approximately 2.5% of the U.S.’s processed peanuts. (1)
On February 13, 2009, the PCA filed for bankruptcy liquidation. A subsequent string of civil lawsuits have been filed against the corporation and the FBI has been investigating the case ever since. (2)
The four individuals named in the indictment are the company’s former president and vice president, brothers Stewart and Michael Parnell, the former plant operations manager, Samuel Lightsey and the former plant quality controller manager, Mary Wilkerson.
Lightsey and the Parnell brothers have been charged with wire fraud, conspiracy mail and the introduction of contaminated and misbranded food into interstate commerce, while Wilkerson and Stewart Parnell have been charged with the obstruction of justice.
The Safety of Americans Is First
In an official statement released by the U.S. Department of Justice, Stuart Delery, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, spoke of the Department’s commitment to convict anyone found guilty of deliberately risking the safety of Americans.
“When those responsible for producing or supplying our food lie and cut corners, as alleged in the indictment, they put us all at risk. The Department of Justice will not hesitate to pursue any person whose criminal conduct risks the safety of Americans who have done nothing more than eat a peanut butter or jelly sandwich,” stated Stuart Delery. (3)
During the outbreak of salmonella in the US between 2008 and 2009, a total of nine people died, more than 700 fell ill and 166 were hospitalized. The outbreak was traced to the PCA’s Blakely plant, when inspectors found peanut products being manufactured in appalling conditions, including mold, cockroaches and a leaking roof. (2)
While the indictment of four officials means that this shocking case of corporate deception may have gone one step further to reaching its conclusion, the implausibility of the reasons why supposedly professional human beings deliberately allowing contaminated food products to circulate through the homes and institutions across America has far from abated.
In fact, now that the former PCA officials have now been officially charged, the question “Why did the PCA knowingly ship contaminated products?” remains more pertinent than ever.
Of course money is the leading reason why corporations become involved in corruption, when the treacherous pangs of greed become so prevailing that all rational, humane and legalistic sensibilities are abandoned.
As mentioned earlier, in 2008, the PCA did almost $25 million in sales. While reports do not specify how much of this $25 million was actually profits, it does not take an accountant to realize that with the appalling conditions the peanut products were being produced in, the PCA were not spending much on building maintenance, testing of its products or health and safety measures.
In 2009, FDA inspectors underwent a two-year inspection of the Blakely plant where they found mold growing on the walls and ceilings, dead insects close to the peanuts, holes in the building and foot-long gaps in the roof.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, FDA inspectors also found the equipment was not cleaned after being used, even after the salmonella outbreak had occurred, and the produce was not segregated between raw and finished. (4)
Former employees of the Blakely plant described working conditions as “filthy and nasty” and that they would never eat or allow their children to eat the peanut butter made by the PCA. Another former employee told the Washington Post that he had seen a family of mice munching on peanuts and that they had to work standing in water following heavy rain seeping in through the roof. (5)
The appalling conditions and health and safety standards PCA employees were forced to make the products in, coupled with the fact that peanut butter and other peanut-related produce are relatively inexpensive products to make, means that it is easy to surmise that out of the $25 million the PCA took in sales in 2008, most of it was profits.
It is a common acceptance in the corporate world that a company’s profits are generally benefited by its president, vice president and higher management. It is therefore not that surprising that it is the PCA’s president, vice president, operations manager and quality control manager that have been charged with the 75 indictments and that this whole sordid tale is an example of corporate greed at its most barefaced, shameless and corrupt.
References & Image Credits:
(1) The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
(2) The Huffington Post
(4) Wall Street Journal
(5) Washington Post
(6) World Bank Photo Collection via photopin cc
(7) EuroMagic via photopin cc