Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Peanut Terrorism? Peanut Corp. of America Reveals Dangerous Security Gap

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is being criticized for not stopping Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) from shipping salmonella-laced peanuts to manufacturers across the country. It does look like the FDA may have dropped the ball, but I think focusing on that agency may be a mistake.

Deadly Bacilli in Food Supply: This Isn't a National Security Issue?!

There's a war on: presumably starting a small plague, making Americans fear peanut butter, and coming close to crippling part of the food industry could be considered an act of terror.

No, I don't think that the boss of PCA is in league with Al Qaeda. It looks like he's a businessman who knew that keeping expenses down is important - and had no clue about what can happen to a company that kills people with tainted food.

The point is that what Peanut Corporation of America did to this country is the sort of thing that terrorists might want to accomplish: spread fear, kill some people, and damage the American economy. It seems to me that this is something that the Department of Homeland Security should be interested in.

Maybe someone on Capitol Hill will think of that.

I rather hope so: This peanut problem is what happened when one clueless corporate head sabotaged his own company. If someone with access to part of America's food supply wanted to cause damage, I think things could be much worse.

Tainted Peanuts: Publicity, But the Wrong Kind

Peanut Corporation of America is now famous: known around the world as the company that killed nine people (so far), rather than lose money. As it stands today, Peanut Corporation of America stands to lose quite a lot of money anyway. And, if manufacturers of peanut-related products have any sense, every contract it ever had, or might get.

Cash Flow, Cutting Expenses, and Logical Consequences

The owner and president of PCA, Stewart Parnell, said, "On the advice of my counsel, I respectfully decline to answer your questions based on the protection afforded me under the United States Constitution," several times today, instead of answering questions in a congressional hearing. (Reuters)

That's probably smart, since it looks like he wrote "turn them loose" after finding one lab that couldn't detect salmonella in his products. (Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Americans are a bit touchy about being sold tainted food to begin with, and with the economy in the shape it's in, I don't think Mr. Parnell is going to be well-liked anywhere in the country.

Salmonella, Cash Flow, Cluelessness, and the Peanut Corporation

There's no reason to believe that Mr. Parnell wanted to kill anyone: but it's hard to believe that he didn't know that 'salmonella poisoning,' or salmonellosis, is a serious disease. And, that it's not a good idea to hunt for one lab that can't find the bacilli. So far, his money-saving tactic has resulted in:
  • Around 600 sick people
  • Nine dead bodies
  • Over 1,800 products recalled
  • Millions of dollars lost by other companies
And, a PCA plant in Texas is being closed. Thirty people work there. Or, used to work there. There's no guarantee that the Plainville peanut plant will re-open. The peanut workers may be better off that Detroit autoworkers, though. Plainview, Texas, has a population of about 22,000, is the Hale County Seat, and has businesses like Cargill Meat Solutions, with a payroll of 2,100. Just the same, these aren't the economic times I'd choose to lose my job in.

This Time, it's Personal: A Third of the Dead are Minnesotans

I'm taking this peanut affair a bit more personally than some other topics. Three of the nine deaths were here in Minnesota, all of them in Brainerd care facilities:
  • Shirley Mae Almer, 72, formerly of Perham
  • Clifford Tousignant, 78, originally of Duluth
  • Doris Flatgard, 87, apparently of Brainerd
    (, Brainerd Dispatch)
When someone's that age, it's easy to assume that something else might have been the cause of death - but it's quite a coincidence that all three had salmonellosis when they died.

There are lawsuits, of course: directed against the King Nut, the company that supplied the tainted peanut butter, and the Peanut Corporation of America that gave King Nut tainted peanuts. Apparently, King Nut was expected to test for Salmonella, too.

Sloppy work, at best. I've written about this sort of thing before.

Next Time, Tainted Food Could Be Terrorist Attack

Given how easy it was to get salmonella-laced peanut butter spread across the country, a terrorist attack on America's food supply isn't at all inconceivable. Particularly since the boss of one plant, in what looks like a really stupid cost-cutting move, managed to:
  • Kill nine people
  • Infect around 600
  • Make quite a few Americans afraid of peanut butter
  • Damage part of the American food industry
Imagine what could be accomplished, by someone who wanted to cause havoc! I don't think I will, right now. It's late, and I need my sleep.

More-or-less related posts: Related posts from another blog: In the news: Background:

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.