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US Lawmakers Hear from Salmonella Victims, Peanut Plant Managers


Frustrations flared on Capitol Hill Wednesday as politicians heard from victims, then tried to question the owner and manager of a peanut facility that shipped products that sickened hundreds and killed nine. Peanut products tainted with salmonella were traced to the Peanut Corporation of America.

Shirley Almer survived lung cancer. And brain cancer. But not contaminated peanut butter.

"Our grief was replaced by anger as we struggled with this preventable tragedy," said her son, Jeffrey.

Clifford Tousignant, great grandfather to 14, earned three purple hearts in the Korean War. But his heart gave out over tainted peanut butter.

"How can we truly be leaders of the free world if we can't keep our own citizens safe from the food that we eat every single day," asked his son, Lou.

At least eight people have died and more than 600 were sickened in a national salmonella outbreak.

Peanuts were allegedly shipped from the Peanut Corporation of America's plant in Georgia.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday revealed internal company emails, in which PCA president Stewart Parnell allegedly learns of some contaminated peanuts, but tells his plant manger to "turn them loose".

In another, he expresses concern over a positive salmonella test, complaining it was costing the company huge amounts of money, indicated by five dollar signs.

The evidence presented by legislators caused the father, Peter K. Hurley, of a sick toddler to ask..."Does no one have a conscience anymore?"

Peanut Corporation owner Stewart Parnell was ordered to testify, along with his plant manager. But lawmakers only heard this from them.

Both Parnell and plant manager Sammy Lightsey responded, "Mr. Chairman and the committee... on the advice of counsel, I exercise my rights."

"I refuse to answer based on the protection afforded me in the United States constitution," Parnell said.

A Food and Drug Administration report found that the company shipped products that tested positive for salmonella 12 times in a year. In some cases, PCA reportedly changed labs and shipped the products after they tested negative.

The crisis has resulted in one of the largest recalls in American history because of the sheer magnitude of peanut butter consumed here.

"It's actually more American than apple pie," Representative Janice Schakowsky said.

The recall has confused Americans about what peanut products are safe and which aren't. The FDA website lists about 2,000 recalled products. That takes up 288 pages. Even pet food is included.

The committee chair, Greg Walden, filled a container with recalled food products and asked, "Would either of you be willing to take the lid off and eat any of these products now?"

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee on the advice of my counsel...," Parnell responded.

The Justice Department is looking into criminal charges. Federal law forbids producing or shipping foods that can affect the health of consumers.

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