Upton Sinclair would have had a field day:

"The old man used to look for distressed situations: Someone over-inventoried or had peanuts from last year that they had to move," said David Brooks, who was a buyer for a snack company that refused to purchase from Parnell because of concerns about sanitation and what he called the "culture" of the family business….

On three occasions in the mid-1980s, Brooks inspected PCA’s Gorman plant to determine whether to buy its peanut products, he said. Each time, he gave the plant a failing grade.

"It was just filthy," said Brooks, who has since retired from the food business. "Dust was all over the beams, the braces of the building. The roofs leaked, the windows would be open, and birds would fly through the building. . . . It was just a time bomb waiting to go off, and everybody in the peanut industry in Georgia, Virginia and Texas — they all knew."

Three inspections in the 1980s.  Um…hello?!?  Anyone here think conditions improved with age?  Doesn’t the FDA have a tip line?  Why yes, they do.  

This particular food-borne illness outbreak has opened Pandora’s festering box on food supply questions:

…the outbreak has revealed several gaps in the nation’s food safety system, including a personnel shortage that has led the FDA to contract out inspections to state officials, the lack of a program to trace food from the farm to the table, the ability of companies to keep tests results revealing contamination to themselves, and the inability of the federal government to order recalls without their cooperation.

During last week’s food safety hearing, Rep. Waxman read aloud from e-mails (YouTube) from the peanut company president ordering product out the door because he was losing profits, regardless of a substantial risk of public harm.

Horrible business practices aside, there is more than simply a greedy SOB at risk here (PDF):

Things are different from Sinclair’s critical view of packing plants of the 1900’s. We now face things Sinclair could not even begin to imagine. Those two things must drive food safety decisions now. The first is the threat of terrorist attacks via the food system. Just as too many could not imagine the horror of 9/11, too many cannot envision this kind of food disaster today. When a terrorist attacks our food system it will look eerily similar to any other outbreak of foodborne illness. Second, is the growth of food imports. Sinclair could not have imagined a world where the meat that may be in one hamburger could originate in Argentina, Canada and Colorado or that we would have fruits and vegetables year-round shipped in from South America, Asia and Africa….

Things are very different from the days of Sinclair’s Jungle. And yet? Similarities are haunting, aren’t they?

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com

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