Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced legislation late last week that would stiffen the penalties for companies that knowingly violate food safety standards.
According to Leahy’s office, the Food Safety Enforcement Act would increase the sentences prosecutors can seek for people who “knowingly contaminate the nation’s food supply and endanger Americans’ lives.”
“Current statutes do not provide sufficient criminal sanctions for those who knowingly violate our food safety laws,” said Leahy, citing the 2009 Peanut Corporation of America Salmonella outbreak as an example. “The bill I introduce today would increase sentences for people who put profits above safety by knowingly contaminating the food supply. It makes such offenses felony violations and significantly increases the chances that those who commit them will face jail time, rather than a slap on the wrist, for their criminal conduct.”
Last year, Leahy, who is also a senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, invited Gabrielle Meunier of South Burlington, Vermont, to testify at an Agriculture Committee hearing on federal food safety oversight. Meunier’s seven-year-old son, Christopher, fell seriously ill in the Fall of 2008 and was hospitalized for six days in a case connected to the peanut-Salmonella outbreak associated with products from the Peanut Corporation.
The Food Safety Enforcement Act would allow prosecutors to seek prison sentences of up to 10 years for people who “knowingly place contaminated food products into the nation’s food supply” and make such offenses felony violations.
“No parent should have to go through what Mrs. Meunier experienced,” said Leahy in a statement. “The American people should be confident that the food they buy for their families is safe.”
Leahy also noted last week he has called on the Department of Justice to conduct a criminal investigation into the Peanut Corporation Salmonella outbreak, which was linked to over 600 illnesses and nine deaths. It remains unclear where the Department is in that investigation.