Industry Trying to Convince Consumers That Peanuts Are SafeApr 17, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
Salmonella Outbreak Linked To PCA
The peanut industry is hurting following the massive peanut and peanut product recall and salmonella outbreak linked to one processor, the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA). The debacle resulted in nearly 700 illnesses, over 3,400 product recalls, and nine deaths. Lobbyists and public relations interests are hard at work to bring the peanut industry out of the massive downturn it is suffering following reports of filth and contagion at PCA’s plants.
Now that some of the dust has begun to settle on the mess, the Associated Press (AP) reports that the peanut industry is out there touting it message that peanuts are safe to eat. The industry is also citing an emerging law intended to ensure peanuts are safer and, with that in mind, that consumers should snack on the recently-deadly nuts, reports the AP.
Analysts are measuring the damage and one, says the AP, places estimates at a whopping $1 billion. Don Koehler, executive director of the Georgia Peanut Commission, agrees reported Farm Press, citing Koehler’s March testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Small Business in which he said lost production and sales would likely cost America’s peanut producers up to $1 billion. “Farmers, as small businesses have felt the real economic impact of this recall,” said Koehler. “Because farmers do business with other small businesses who supply them their inputs, the ripple will not likely stop at the farmer,” quoted Farm Press. Stanley Fletcher, a University of Georgia agriculture professor who specializes in peanuts says he believes farmers stand to lose $500 million this year and another $500 million from lost economic activity, reports the AP.
Farmers Lobbying Congress
Farmers have been lobbying Congress and the new administration, asking for support in the way of buying “more peanut butter for federal feeding programs,” says the AP. Now, says the AP, farmers and food manufacturers are supporting new federal food safety rules in an attempt to calm peanut-shy consumers. But, notes the AP, the same groups are also quick to oppose measures that don’t suit them.
For instance, said the AP, some farmers support annual manufacturer inspections, but manufacturers and the Grocery Manufacturers Association oppose this measure, arguing that the inspections don’t make sense. The Association represents major food companies and, its lobbyist Scott Faber has said, "We should focus on activities that truly increase the safety of food and minimize steps that ultimately may increase the cost of food," quoted the AP, noting that when it comes to lobbying, manufacturers have a decided lead over peanut farmers.
Grocery manufacturers reported spending $4.5 million on lobbying last year, said the AP, citing the Center for Responsive Politics, while Texas growers reported spending $40,000 last year and the Georgia Peanut Commission spent $100,000.
Planters Peanuts is saying, “It’s safe to eat peanuts,” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and peanut farmer Don Self was chatting up the benefits of peanuts in Georgia last weekend. But, consumers are not as quick to forget that it was not that long ago that reports of lax oversight and deplorable conditions at PCA were making headlines. For instance, reports about PCA have included: Inordinately short inspections; lack of proper licensure; fraudulent inspection reports; directives from senior executives to, in essence, ignore contamination and ship tainted products; and evidence of mold, cockroaches, an array of various salmonella pathogens, dead rodents, rodent excrement, and bird feathers, to name a few.
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