Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) sent a letter Tuesday to the Department of Justice inquiring about the status of the department’s investigation into Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), the company implicated in a massive product recall and Salmonella outbreak in 2008 and 2009.
Thousands of products were recalled, hundreds were sickened across the country, nine people lost their lives, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration report eventually concluded that PCA knowingly sold peanut products contaminated with Salmonella.
Stewart Parnell, president of PCA, declined to testify before Congress about the contamination. Parnell cited his Fifth Amendment rights when he appeared before the House Energy Commerce Committee in February 2009.
In the wake of the peanut scandal, one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history, Senator Leahy has stayed on the issue and demanded a criminal investigation. One of his constituents, a 7-year-old boy from South Burlington, Vermont was seriously sickened in the outbreak. The boy’s mother, Gabrielle Meunier, has become a fierce advocate for stronger food safety laws, prompting Leahy to invite her to testify last year before the Senate Agriculture Committee about her son’s illness.
“Two years ago, I wrote to the Department urging a full criminal investigation into this matter,” wrote Leahy in his letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. “At the time, the Department was unable to comment with specificity but confirmed that an investigation was ongoing and that it was uncertain whether additional legal authorities were needed … I hope that there has been a thorough criminal investigation into PCA’s conduct at the least, and that if appropriate, criminal charges are aggressively pursued. To the extent possible consistent with ongoing investigations, I request an update on the Department’s investigation into the PCA matter.”
Leahy also recently reintroduced the Food Safety Accountability Act, a bill that would increase criminal penalties against those who knowingly violate food safety standards, including stricter prison sentences and fines for those who knowingly “disregard for consumer safety.”
Peter Hurley, an Oregon police officer whose son Jake fell ill after eating contaminated peanut butter crackers, praised Leahy’s letter to Holder.
Both Hurley and Meunier recently traveled to DC to put pressure on DOJ to press charges against Parnell.
“This is great news,” said Hurley. “It does not mean we have a conclusion to the matter but it sure helps when the Judiciary Committee has taken an interest and is keeping an eye on it. This is better late than never.”