Anti-Terrorism Law Used to Open Peanut Company's Records

6:59 PM, Jan 28, 2009   |    comments
Blakely plant named source of Salmonella outbreak.
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ATLANTA --- Another bombshell was revealed Wednesday morning as Georgia lawmakers heard testimony regarding the ongoing peanut salmonella crisis.


State Agriculture Deputy Commissioner Oscar Garrison told members of the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee that the Food and Drug Administration had to force a South Georgia company to turn over its own inspection records using the Federal Anti-Terrorism law.


The F.D.A. announced Tuesday that the Peanut Corporation of America plant in Blakely, Georgia, had a history of problems it failed to correct.


The F.D.A. findings that the plant repeatedly shipped products that the company's own tests found to be positive for salmonella.


A senior F.D.A. investigator said the company's own internal testing detected salmonella on at least 12 occasions in 2007 and 2008.  But the firm shipped the questionable products after outside labs retested them.


Garrison told lawmakers that his department is very upset about the company's behavior, calling it "lab shopping".


Garrison and Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin told committee members they need stronger laws to force Georgia companies to do their own inspections and immediately turn over results to state and federal regulators.


Garrison also said his department is understaffed with only 60 inspectors to check more than 16 thousand food processing companies and retailers in Georgia.


Commissioner Irvin told the committee that his department has more than 100 vacancies, and his agency needs help immediately


Despite a record budget crisis of $2.2 billion, several committee members assured Irvin they would do what they can to find help for the Agriculture Department.


Meanwhile, Georgia peanut growers say they are being devastated by this latest salmonella crisis.


Peanuts are the largest single crop in Georgia, worth an estimated $2 billion a year to the state.


Several House committee members expressed frustration that the crisis is hurting sales of perfectly safe products such as Girl Scout cookies and peanut butter.


Rep. Tommy Smith, (D) Alma, says he represents a large number of South Georgia peanut farms, but even he is confused and cautious about what peanut products to buy and eat.


State Agriculture Department officials urged consumers to go to their website or the F.D.A. website for updated lists on which peanut products are safe and which are not.


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