Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) sent a letter Tuesday to Attorney General Eric Holder, requesting information on the Department’s investigation into the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA). In 2009, more than 2,000 products containing peanuts processed at PCA were recalled for possible salmonella contamination. A Food and Drug Administration report stated that PCA knowingly sold peanut products containing salmonella.
Tainted products processed by the Peanut Corporation of America caused more than 700 people to fall ill and resulted in the deaths of nine people. The president of PCA, Stewart Parnell, refused to testify before Congress about the contamination. A 7-year-old South Burlington, Vermont, boy fell ill from salmonella tainted products from PCA, and in 2009, his mother, Gabrielle Meunier testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee about her son’s illness. Leahy is a senior member of the Agriculture Committee.
“Two years ago, I wrote to the Department urging a full criminal investigation into this matter,” wrote Leahy. “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 is the author of the Food Safety Accountability Act, which would strengthen criminal penalties against those who knowingly violate food safety standards, imposing stricter prison sentences and fines for individuals or corporations that contaminate the nation’s food supply by knowingly distributing contaminated food products with a disregard for consumer safety. Recent recalls of tainted food products, including nationwide recalls of certain eggs and peanut products, led Leahy to first introduce legislation in July 2010. The Senate Judiciary Committee, which Leahy chairs, unanimously approved the legislation in September 2010, but the Senate failed to act on the bill. Leahy reintroduced the legislation in January.